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03/02/12 5:13 PM ET

Twins open Grapefruit League season Saturday

Morneau, Mauer, Span all expected in the lineup against Rays

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- After last year's disappointing season, the Twins are eager to start fresh, and they get their first chance on Saturday, when the Twins open Grapefruit League play against the Rays at 12:05 p.m. CT at Hammond Stadium.

After 13 days of workouts, the Twins will turn to right-hander Carl Pavano in their Spring Training opener, with catcher Joe Mauer, first baseman Justin Morneau and center fielder Denard Span all healthy and in the lineup.

"It's always good to get the games started," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "We've been here three extra days this year, so it's been a little different for us. But now it's time to get out there and see how we start competing against other clubs."

It's been an encouraging camp so far for the Twins, considering Mauer, Morneau and Span have all gone through the workouts without any issues.

The trio combined to play in just 221 games last season because of various ailments, including Morneau and Span's battles with concussion-like symptoms and Mauer's well-publicized bout with bilateral leg weakness that forced him to miss 57 games.

But they'll be in the lineup against Rays left-hander David Price on Saturday, and will be joined by shortstop Jamey Carroll, right fielder Josh Willingham, third baseman Danny Valencia, left fielder Trevor Plouffe and second baseman Alexi Casilla.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has been pleased by what he's seen so far in camp, and is excited to see how the club fares, leading up to the regular season.

"These guys are working their tails off," Gardenhire said. "We've got a couple of new people that are pretty fun to watch, so it ought to be interesting. I'm like everybody else, I can't wait to see what happens."

The Twins added three days of practice this spring to work on fundamentals, with various infield and outfield drills aimed to make sure the club doesn't suffer from any of the mental lapses that occurred all too often last season.

It was also important because the club invited so many pitchers in camp, with 33 on the roster, including right-hander Joel Zumaya, who was lost for the season with a torn ulnar collateral ligament suffered on Feb. 25.

"We covered an awful lot," Gardenhire said. "We threw a whole lot of baseball at them, and I think it was good. Guys have worked really hard and we really covered a lot of stuff. And we covered it more than once. It was just what I wanted to do, not more fundamentals, but more deeper into the fundamentals. Get to the things that we struggled on last year a little bit more."

The Twins will turn to a veteran in their first Spring Training game with Pavano on the mound against the Rays. Pavano, who is entering his 14th Major League season, is also slated to be the club's Opening Day starter against the Orioles on April 6.

Pavano said he expects to go two innings, and is looking forward to facing hitters in a game after throwing only a few live bullpen sessions during camp.

"You like to think you got in quality sessions and quality work to be prepared to compete," Pavano said. "You're pushing for quality and repetition, so it's just another step to get ready for the season. It's good. We had a period where we threw our BPs and now it's time to face hitters."

Pavano said that while he'll be out there working on a few things, he's also looking to get results, even though it's still just Spring Training. "I'm going out there looking to get outs," Pavano said. "I'll let the situation dictate everything. I'll probably throw a majority of fastballs the first time out, but you have to work on things and compete too."

So while the Twins are coming off a 99-loss season, there's still optimism in the air, given the clean slate that the new year offers.

"As a manager, I always believe that we're going to win a lot of baseball games," Gardenhire said. "I think things have to go right for you, obviously, in this game. You have to do a lot of things right to win baseball games. People have to perform at their peak.

"It can't be 10 or 12 guys having decent years. You've gotta have guys having great years, and you've gotta have some people who step up and have a heck of a year, so a lot of things have to go your way. But I believe if you've got pitchers who throw the ball over the plate and you catch it, we can score runs, we just have to pitch and catch the ball."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.