06/20/08 7:43 PM ET
Young Twins face legendary Big Unit
Sluggers excited for chance to take on future Hall of Famer
By Thor Nystrom / MLB.com
Gomez watched Johnson on TV as a kid. He's never faced the big left-hander, but he gave a couple indications of his strategy for Friday's game: he probably won't bunt, because he said he doesn't like to do so against left-handed pitchers, and he will probably be aggressive on the basepaths if the team is struggling offensively."When I'm on base, 80 percent of the time I score," Gomez said. In the past, left-handed batters would frequently and unashamedly duck Johnson, taking a day off. On Friday, the Twins' star left-handed hitters, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, were in the lineup. It appears as though the only change manager Ron Gardenhire made to get a left-handed batter out of the lineup was subbing in right-handed-hitting third baseman Matt Macri in the ninth slot for Brian Buscher. "Nobody really enjoys facing him, right-handed or left-handed," Morneau said. "Especially left-handed, the ball comes behind you, he's so tall, he has that angle." Morneau was facing Johnson for the first time in his career. "Go up today and get a hit or two, I can say I got a hit off a Hall of Famer," Morneau said. "I have pretty much nothing to lose in this situation." Gardenhire said the team would try to be more aggressive running against Johnson, including possible use of the hit-and-run and a green light to steal for Gomez and Alexi Casilla. "He's a future Hall of Fame pitcher," Gardenhire said of Johnson. "He's never going to make it easy on you. If he gets the ball, makes a mistake, you better hit it. When you get your opportunities, you better take advantage of them because there's not going to be that many. He's not as overpowering as he used to be -- not 95-96 [mph], it's more 89-91. Still, he's got a nasty slider, he has more control of where he's throwing the ball than he ever [did]." Gardenhire is hoping Johnson will not replicate his last performance against the Twins. On July 26, 2005, as a member of the Yankees, Johnson pitched eight shutout innings with 11 strikeouts and only two hits allowed. And while Johnson is a different pitcher than he was even three years ago, when he was 17-8 with a 3.79 ERA, Gardenhire is also quick to point out that the hitters that couldn't hit Johnson that day aren't the same that will attempt to do so tonight. In fact, Mauer is the only player that was also in the starting lineup that day. "It's a whole new lineup here," Gardenhire said.
Thor Nystrom is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.