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03/11/08 6:47 PM ET

Gomez, Span battling for starting role

Gardenhire hints that both are in hunt for center field job

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Since the start of Spring Training, the competition for the Twins' center field job has been labeled a three-man race.

But it now may actually be down to two.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire hinted on Tuesday that Carlos Gomez and Denard Span are the two players that the Twins are looking at for the starting job.

"I look at one of them to be our center fielder," Gardenhire said in reference to Gomez and Span. "I could send them both down [to Triple-A Rochester], but I don't know what good that's going to do me. They need to play center field, and they both need to play."

The response came after Gardenhire was asked about the third center field candidate, Jason Pridie. It had appeared that Pridie was losing ground in the race, as most of the starts in center this spring have been given to Gomez and Span.

Pridie instead has been moved all around the outfield. And while he may be the most versatile -- and perhaps most consistent -- outfielder of the three, Gardenhire said he's not viewing him as a starter.

"I look at him as more of a role guy," Gardenhire said of Pridie.

The Twins skipper made it clear that for more than one of the three candidates to make the club, it would have to be some combination of Pridie and whoever wins the starting job.

But keeping Pridie as an extra outfielder might be a long shot. The Twins already are set to have five outfielders on their roster. That includes right fielder Michael Cuddyer, left fielders Delmon Young, Jason Kubel and Craig Monroe and whoever earns the starting spot in center.

Of the two candidates now battling for the starting center field spot, Span has been the more consistent producer at the plate. He doubled in the first inning of Tuesday's contest against the Rays. Span, 24, is now hitting .278 in eight games this spring with a .435 on-base percentage.

Gomez, on the other hand, has wowed the team with his speed, but he's struggled to put together quality at-bats on a consistent basis. The 22-year-old outfielder has gone hitless in his last eight plate appearances, dropping his average to .167 in eight games. That included an 0-for-3 day on Monday in Jupiter against the Marlins, where all three were softly hit.

Gardenhire acknowledged after the game on Monday that there have been times this spring when Gomez appears to be a tad overmatched at the plate.

"I hope as we go along here that his at-bats get a little better," Gardenhire said. "He's been exciting. We've seen some games where, man, it's really looking pretty good. But he's putting a little much on himself right now. He's got to slow the game down."

But as for trying to handicap the race just yet, Gardenhire said that the next few weeks will say a lot as the numbers in camp are reduced and the two candidates will get even more playing time.

"We're going to heat up the competition and see what happens," Gardenhire said. "Or really, they are going to heat up the competition more than we are. We're going to put them out there and let them play. It's going to be up to them who handles it."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.