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12/08/10 3:30 PM EST
Gardenhire hopes he'll need Japanese lessons
Twins skipper excited about chance to add Nishioka to roster
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Twins manager Ron Gardenhire often spends his offseasons traveling around the country in his motor home, visiting with family, and perhaps squeezing in some golf. But Gardenhire said he has another thing to add to his to-do list this winter -- learn Japanese. The Twins are currently working to sign Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka after posting the winning bid last month for his exclusive negotiating rights. Gardenhire said he's going to try to do everything he can to make Nishioka feel comfortable with the Twins should a deal be worked out between the sides before the Dec. 26 deadline, which appears likely to happen. Nishioka, who doesn't speak any English, would be the first Japanese player that Gardenhire has managed, but the skipper doesn't foresee there being any issues. "Over the course of time, I've learned a little Spanish, where I can communicate with some of our Latin players, and that's always entertaining," Gardenhire said. "It gives me something else that I get to do this winter -- and that is brush up on a little Japanese, and make sure I can get a few things across to him. "I'm sure we're going to need some help with an interpreter and all of those things, but it will be entertaining. That's what the game's all about. Once you get on the field, there are a lot of things you can show him what you're talking about." Gardenhire was unable to attend the Winter Meetings at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dophin Resort this week due to a family matter, but he spoke to local reporters during a conference call. The skipper, like many Twins fans, is curious to see what type of player he has in Nishioka. Gardenhire said that his knowledge so far on the switch-hitting middle infielder is limited, but he's excited about the possibility of adding Nishioka -- who is the reigning Japanese Pacific League batting champion -- to the lineup. "He's a good player," Gardenhire said. "He's a speed guy. He can run a little bit. He's won some Gold Gloves over there, but I haven't had the opportunity to see him play. I don't really know a lot about him and won't know until we get him in Spring Training, if we're fortunate enough to sign him." One of the big question marks has been whether Nishioka would play second base or shortstop with the Twins. General manager Bill Smith said that decision will be up to Gardenhire, but the manager wants to watch Nishioka in the field and talk to him about it before making a decision. Nishioka has won Gold Gloves at both positions while playing for the Chiba Lotte Marines. One factor in where Nishioka plays could be who ends up being his double-play partner. J.J. Hardy and Alexi Casilla are currently the club's options, although there remains a possibility that the Twins could trade Hardy since a number of teams are interested in the shortstop. Gardenhire reiterated what he and Smith have continually said this winter in that Casilla will get an opportunity to compete for one of the starting middle-infield jobs, even if Hardy remains in the mix. And while Casilla can also play both positions, Gardenhire indicated that he prefers him at shortstop. "I have always said, for me, I think he moved really well at shortstop," Gardenhire said, "I think he's very acrobatic. I think he's very athletic. He can go get the ball and throw from all kinds of angles. I think he's comfortable coming in and getting the ball rather than waiting on it.'' Gardenhire also addressed a number of other topics on the call: In regards to the many openings that the Twins could have in their bullpen, Gardenhire said that he'll have to wait and see how everything shakes out as to who will might be back and who might not. Whether the Twins decide to fill their holes through free agency or through some of their internal options, Gardenhire believes that the club will have plenty of strong options. "The one thing I know is we've been pretty resilient being able to find the pieces that we need," Gardenhire said. "No matter which way we go, we'll have a few good pitchers out there in the bullpen." Two specific options for the bullpen that Gardenhire discussed were Pat Neshek and Glen Perkins, who are both looking to deliver strong seasons in the Majors after spending nearly all of 2010 at Triple-A Rochester. Gardenhire said that he was impressed by the way that Perkins finished last season, and that Neshek, who will be entering his second season back following Tommy John surgery, needs to work on things to help increase his arm strength. Last year, Neshek's velocity diminished at the end of the season, and it's something they'll try to address this year. "He wasn't throwing the ball very hard when he got up here [in September], but he also just had a full season in the Minor Leagues and probably wore him down a little bit," Gardenhire said. "So I think Spring Training will be huge for him -- see if he can come back and get some more [velocity]. We know he can get big league hitters out. He's just got to get his velocity back. It takes time." As for the Twins' strong pursuit to bring back veteran starter Carl Pavano, Gardenhire said, "I think he would love to pitch for us. Hopefully we will get him back and we'll have some really tough decisions to make [with the rest of the rotation]." When asked about getting Joe Nathan back after the closer missed all of last season due to Tommy John surgery -- and the possibility of Matt Capps closing if Nathan is not quite ready -- Gardenhire said that the team will just have to wait and see how things unfold at Spring Training. "I'm sure he's going to go into Spring Training wanting to be a closer, and that is the way he has to attack it," Gardenhire said of Nathan. "He has to go on like that. We expect that -- and the same way with Capps -- so that will be a good problem to have." In regards to his No. 2 hitter, Gardenhire said he hasn't yet made a decision on how his lineup will look for next season. He wants to know exactly who he'll have on the roster as options before he starts discussing possible fits for different spots in the lineup.