08/29/10 5:46 PM ET
Team-first mentality key in Twins' clubhouse
By Bob Sherwin / Special to MLB.com
It's a team that has lost plenty of talent over the past few years. Eddie Guardado, Johan Santana and Torii Hunter, among others. Yet the clubhouse and the players' attitudes remain positive.
"When you have everyone trying to get their foot in the door, keep their foot in the door and worrying about themselves, that's the mindset we don't want," said manager Ron Gardenhire, who has guided his team to the AL Central title in five of the past eight years.
"We want the team concept here. If you become good team player here, do the little things that help us win, you'll have your foot in the door. That's all we preach, grab an oar and row the boat."
But this year that philosophy has been tested. The team has faced an inordinate number of injuries to key players, including Joe Nathan, Nick Punto, Jose Mijares, Ron Mahay, Kevin Slowey and Justin Morneau.
Those spots had to be filled quickly, some by players outside the organization. How can the team be certain a new guy fits the old mold? How do they avoid upsetting the team chemistry?
"We do pretty good research on players and their makeup," Gardenhire said. "We don't miss too many times on the makeup part. We ask a lot of questions from a lot of people. We do pretty diligent work as far as background, what kind of player they are and what kind of person they are. That's very important for us."
Just this week, two new players arrived: lefty Randy Flores, picked up on waivers from Colorado, and left-hander Brian Fuentes, in a trade with the Angels. A month ago, the team picked up closer Matt Capps in a trade with Washington to transform the bullpen.
Fuentes could have been a gamble. He's a closer. He loves to close. How would he accept the setup role? Would he become disgruntled?
"That's the first thing I asked [general manager] Bill [Smith], let him know that [he wouldn't be the closer]. I wanted him to know that right away, before we claimed him," Gardenhire said.
"Then, when I brought him in here, he was everything they told me he was: a class act, a great team player. He wants to win. I told him what I wanted him to do here, and he said exactly what I expected him to say, 'Whatever you need, Skip.' "
There's also the other side. What does Capps expect his role will be? Will he expect Fuentes eventually to take over as closer? In fact, in the first game, Fuentes faced the final batter in the ninth and eared the save.
"I said to Capps after the game, 'In that situation, you have the next guy,'" Gardenhire said. "And he told me, 'Gardy, whatever it takes to win, I don't care.'"
Those are the kind of team players that Gardenhire and Smith want to populate the clubhouse. That's the formula they've tried to stick with for most of the decade.
"It's important that character plays a big part. People we go after over winter, we want to make sure they would fit here," Gardenhire added.
Silver lining to Twins' injuries
There might be a positive side to all the Twins' injuries. It means while rosters are pretty well fixed for most contenders during the September pennant stretch, the Twins may be able to add plenty of quality players back from injuries. Kevin Slowey, Justin Morneau, Jose Mijares and Nick Punto could make a return.
"You hope that," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "All you can do is hope guys get healthy, then we have to find a way to get them going in September. We have to live with that."
"But getting guys back could be huge. Especially a Morneau and a Mijares, two of the bigger parts of this team. Then Slowly. Those things can be huge. We have got to get Nick Punto back, our all-purpose guy."
Once they are back, it doesn't mean they will be ready for the intensity of the pennant race. It'll take time to bring them back to what they were.
"We'll have to ad-lib with that. Whether it means bringing pitchers in to throw live BP and simulate some games, we'll just do it," Gardenhire said.
Hudson returns; Thome, Mauer out
Second baseman Orlando Hudson was back in the starting lineup on Sunday after coming out of Saturday's game with a right ankle injury.
"His ankle locked up on him," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He says he's OK. He's back."
Jim Thome was not back. He strained his lower back running to first in the second inning and was removed. He needs a couple days off.
With Monday's off-day, Joe Mauer, who did not start on Sunday, will be given a couple days to recuperate.
"He needs it," Gardennire said, "we've got a long ways to go."
Bob Sherwin is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.