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03/16/08 10:00 AM ET

Gardenhire set to get down to business

Twins manager up to the challenge of reshaped roster

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- If there is one manager who truly enjoys everything that goes along with Spring Training, it's Twins skipper Ron Gardenhire.

The gregarious manager can be found out on the practice fields for hours -- doing everything from hitting fungos to directing infield drills, and even entertaining with his array of jokes the small crowds that gather to watch the club go through their workouts.

But while Gardenhire is all about having fun, he's serious when it comes to winning, and that hasn't changed despite the Twins entering 2008 with a very different roster from before.

Recently, Gardenhire sat down with MLB.com inside his office at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers to discuss how he's dealing with the club's overhaul this winter and how many of the new additions are fitting in to what he calls "the Twins way."

MLB.com: You're entering your seventh year of managing the Twins. Over that time, you've seen your share of changes on this club. But is this perhaps the most change you've seen in a single season?

Gardenhire: We've got so many different people, and our lineup is really going to change. We've always had new people, but it's always been one guy here, one guy there. This year, we've added a lot of people from other places. That's not the norm. And then through trade and free agency, we've lost some pretty big people. Normally, you can go into spring and get a feel right away about who can really help you right now and who needs some time. This year, it's been really hard. I'm still trying to figure out what's right and what's wrong with some of these guys -- the right thing to do for them and for the ballclub. It's definitely interesting.

MLB.com: We're now at the midpoint of Spring Training. Do you feel like you've gotten a better sense of how this club will fare in 2008?

Gardenhire: There are still so many things that haven't been answered. And I expected that. When you have this many guys in camp, you have to see everybody early. So I expected that we wouldn't figure out some of this until we got a little deeper into spring. We've got a feel for the players, but now I want to see them out there playing more during the games together and see where we're at, rather than changing everybody over after two at-bats. From here on out, it ought to be a lot better, where we can evaluate a lot more.

MLB.com: What have been some of the highlights for you so far this spring?

Gardenhire: I think seeing the guys that we got from the Mets, the young pitchers -- [Deolis] Guerra and [Kevin] Mulvey and [Philip] Humber -- and [Carlos] Gomez, too. Just to get a first-hand look at what did we really get for [Johan Santana]. I mean, you read it on paper and see the names but you want to know, "Really, what did we get?"

I think it's been exciting to see some pretty talented people. I know everybody says we didn't do good enough in the trade, but we've got some talented people. Also, some of the other guys we've brought in, like the Astros guys. You don't really know a lot about them. You sign them and know they can play a little bit, but now we've gotten to meet them and see how they fit here.

MLB.com: Another big addition that you got this offseason was outfielder Delmon Young, who has been having a tremendous spring at the plate. Are you happy with what you've seen from him so far?

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Gardenhire: He's been fantastic. He's really a presence in the lineup. I think when you see him walk up there, you're like, "Wow, we've got this guy." He's a good hitter. And he's a young hitter. He really goes with the Mauers, Morneaus and Cuddyers. And he's pretty impressive on his own.

MLB.com: Perhaps the biggest battle currently under way for the Twins this spring is in center field. You entered the spring with three candidates for the position -- Carlos Gomez, Jason Pridie and Denard Span -- and recently said it's pretty much down to two. Do you have a feeling now of who will be in center on Opening Day?

Gardenhire: With all these young guys, no one is going to be Mr. Consistent all the time. We're seeing a lot of good days and bad days from all of them right now. You'll see a great day with one guy and then the next time he goes out there, he looks like, "Oof." Span has been a little more consistent. Go-go [Gomez] has been a little more inconsistent. Go-go can really excite you -- he can do some things. Span-man is trying to be more consistent on a day-to-day basis, and I think he's achieving that. I think they all bring something different. And that's what is fun about it.

MLB.com: Second base is another unsettled position. Are you happy with your two options -- Brendan Harris and Nick Punto?

Gardenhire:I like the second-base combo out there. I like both Harris and Punto; both are really getting after it. I think the situation is going to work itself out. I think they are both going to be pretty serviceable players who can help this ballclub in '08.

MLB.com: You have a new shortstop this year, too, in Adam Everett. Are you looking to see the chemistry between him and the two candidates as a factor in the position battle?

Gardenhire: I wish you could sit there and say these two are our guys up the middle and let them start working together from Day 1. We don't have that situation. The good thing about it is, while game chemistry is important, we can do a lot of things on the side, too, and we have. When you have an established veteran like Everett, he can work with just about everybody, too. As good as Adam is, I don't think he'll have too many issues with whoever is over there.

MLB.com: Injuries have already started to play a factor in the race for rotation spots this spring. Francisco Liriano is coming off Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery, and Scott Baker's dealing with a sore back muscle that's sidelined him for some time. But how has the battle for the fifth spot been going?

Gardenhire: We've got some guys stepping up here. The issue there is we're going to have to try to get out of Spring Training healthy. What we're dealing with right now is Baker, who is a little bit "ouchie," and then Liriano, who we're still not sure how far he's going to get this spring and how that will work out. We think he'll be with us and if he doesn't leave spring with us, he'll be with us at some point or another when we get him to the point where we need him to be.

I think we're still trying to wait and see which way some of these guys are going to go. We like our arms. [Blackburn] has been awesome. The guy has been throwing as good as anybody, with great stuff. And he's using all of his pitches, which is really important. [Glen] Perkins has had some good ones and some bad ones. He's a little more inconsistent. He needs some innings. We have some people we can turn to, and options. But I think we are still a little unsettled in the rotation.

MLB.com: Figuring out your own roster might be a tough enough task, but how about when you look ahead to how the American League Central division will look in '08? A lot of teams, like Detroit and Chicago, have added key parts to their lineups. How do you see the division race shaking out?

Gardenhire: Injuries are going to play a big part of it, and who stays healthy. Detroit has a lot of depth offensively. Cleveland, they won the division last year and they are the guys that everyone is chasing now. For us to stay competitive, it's going to be about health. Our rotation has to stay healthy, and the same for our bullpen. Our lineup, if we can keep the big guys in there swinging everyday, I think we'll be able to compete with anybody. But if we get beat up and have injuries, it's going to make it a lot tougher on us.

We're definitely looking up a hill. These guys are ahead of us right now with where they were at last year, but that makes it easy for us to chase them. We like that part of it, always have. We've never been picked to win it yet, so why start now? We'll just have to wait and see what happens.

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