LAKELAND, Fla. -- Jamey Carroll and Alexi Casilla started in the Twins' middle infield against the Tigers on Wednesday, and that very likely will be the double-play combination on Opening Day. But that doesn't mean Brian Dozier isn't making that decision difficult.
The Twins' No. 14 prospect has hit .273 with a triple and a home run this spring entering Wednesday, but no one really questioned his ability to hit. He's seen time exclusively at shortstop, his primary position in the Minors, though he's also played a good amount of second base in the past. But the Twins wanted to see how Dozier would handle the rigors of playing short at the big league level.
"I want to see him play and see how he handles himself," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "There's a lot to learn and he's been working really hard. We've been doing a lot of defensive drills, so when we're home, he's out there on the defensive fields and getting all those extra ground balls. He's really slowed the game down an awful lot. He's doing a lot of the things we hoped he would do that he hadn't yet mastered. It's coming into play on the field."
But will it be enough for him to land a spot on the 25-man roster? When Tsuyoshi Nishioka was optioned on Monday, it led to speculation that perhaps it could open the door for Dozier. Gardenhire made it pretty clear on Wednesday that the only way that would happen would be if he was needed to play somewhere every day.
"He's not going to sit on the bench when we signed Jamey Carroll, I'll tell you that," Gardenhire said. "He's not going to sit up here and be a utility man. He's too good. He has a lot of people in his corner, including me. I really like this young man. I think he's one of our top prospects, as far as I'm concerned. Whether he stays here or not depends on how we get through the rest of Spring Training. But I'm not going to keep him up here as a utility guy. There's no way that's going to happen. If he's staying, he's playing."
The only way that seems feasible is if one of the two infielders in Wednesday's starting lineup aren't ready to start the year. Gardenhire needed only to point to the infield lip here at Joker Marchant Stadium, where a ball hit and struck Miguel Cabrera in the face on Monday, as proof that anything can happen.
"That's why we're going to wait here another couple of weeks, to see what happens out there in the middle and see how we get through things," Gardenhire said. "Things can change, where you have to make adjustments. That's why I'm not saying he's out of here. He's not. I won't keep him here as a utility guy. But to play? Absolutely, I wouldn't be afraid of that at all, to tell you the truth."
Rule 5 pick Doyle sent back to White Sox
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Rule 5 Draft picks face fairly high odds and a very small window of opportunity to make a case for sticking on the 25-man roster. For pitcher Terry Doyle, that window shut on Wednesday when the Twins sent him back to the White Sox.
Doyle was the second selection in the Major League phase of the December Rule 5 Draft, with the Twins paying $50,000 to take him from the White Sox. In offering him back, Minnesota gets $25,000 from Chicago. He will likely be assigned to Triple-A Charlotte in the White Sox system.
"We asked for waivers on him and he cleared, like you do in a situation where it didn't look like he was going to beat out a few of our guys," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "We offered him back to the White Sox, with some discussion about possibly trying to keep him. I threw some things at Kenny, he threw some things back just like any of those discussions go. We couldn't work it out, so we're sending him back today.
"He needs to get on with his career. You never like to see a young kid that's trying to make his way to the Major Leagues sit around too long. He's only had a few innings here. That's not good for anybody's career, so we made a decision sooner rather than later."
Doyle made three appearances this spring, allowing 10 earned runs on 14 hits over 5 1/3 innings. One outing in particular, a March 15 start against the Pirates, was disastrous. The right-hander allowed eight earned runs and didn't get out of the first inning. One outing alone does not seal a fate, but Rule 5 players have to seize the moment they're given.
"That didn't help the cause," Ryan said. "Obviously, he struggled in that outing. You have to have damage control if you're going to pitch in the big leagues. It's what the Rule 5 guys have to do. You have to make an immediate impact on the people making the decisions.
"We kept Johan Santana at 20 and hid him for about two years. We'll do that if we think it's the right situation. We've had pretty good Rule 5's. You have an opportunity to make a 25-man roster, you have to produce. There's no secret to that."
Morneau skips trip, plays in Minors game
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Justin Morneau didn't make the long bus trip from Fort Myers on Wednesday, but that didn't mean he wasn't getting some work in.
The first baseman played in a Minor League game at the Twins' facility and went 2-for-6 with a double and an RBI as he continues to regain his timing and push past a wrist that's been sore following surgery. He told reporters recently that despite his .100 average, he's seeing progress.
"He'll go down there and let him get swings and that's a good thing for him," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's feeling more and more comfortable. He's wanting more at-bats during the game, which is a good sign."
Gardenhire, like Morneau, isn't overly concerned with results, pointing out that with all the time Morneau missed -- he played in just 69 games in 2011 -- all he's looking for right now is for the four-time All-Star to regain his feel for the game.
"This is just getting back to playing baseball again," Gardenhire said. "He missed a lot of last year. We're just trying to work him in as fast as we can, slowly."
Maloney stating his case for lefty 'pen role
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Matt Maloney has been a starting pitcher almost exclusively throughout his Minor League career, but during his stints with the Reds, he got a taste of bullpen life, making 11 relief appearances in the 2010 and '11 seasons.
When he was claimed off of waivers by the Twins last October, he knew whatever opportunity he had would likely come out of the 'pen. He's certainly made a case for a spot. Including his two scoreless innings against the Tigers on Wednesday, Maloney has posted zeroes in 9 1/3 innings this spring.
"I wanted to come in and pitch the way I'm capable of pitching," said Maloney, who struck out three Tigers, including left-handed-hitting slugger Prince Fielder. "I think I've done that and made a good impression."
He's right in that assessment. The Twins have liked what they've seen, but that certainly doesn't guarantee a spot in the bullpen. There are a lot of relief candidates in camp and it could come down to how many lefties manager Ron Gardenhire wants to have, with Glen Perkins locked in and Brian Duensing possibly sliding to a relief role in 2012.
"The way he's throwing the ball, he attacks, he's got good pitches, handles himself very well on the mound," Gardenhire said of Maloney. "He's very impressive up to this point. We'll see. We've got a ways to go here, but he's a very nice addition. We'll see how it all breaks down at the end, but we like him a lot."
Maloney came into camp without too much anxiety, using past experience to help him transition to a new organization. Back in July 2007, he was traded from the Phillies to the Reds, so he was prepared for everything that comes with being the new guy.
"It was a change for me then, a drastic change, being a younger guy," Maloney said. "Coming here, I felt relaxed and comfortable. I'd been through it before, so I kind of knew what to expect. I just wanted to get off on the right foot."