4/2/2014 8:21 P.M. ET
Twins have luxury in versatile Swarzak
By Rhett Bollinger / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- Right-hander Anthony Swarzak led the Majors in relief innings pitched last year with 96, but he could see that total drop this season, as he's expected to be used in higher-leverage situations.
Swarzak, serving as the club's long reliever in '13, posted a 2.91 ERA in 48 relief appearances -- with 37 of those appearances going longer than one inning.
But Swarzak was the first reliever used by the club on Monday, throwing a perfect inning in relief of Ricky Nolasco, with two strikeouts. Swarzak's velocity in his one-inning stint was impressive, as he reached as high as 96 mph on the radar gun after averaging 92 mph on his fastball last year, according to Fangraphs.com.
Swarzak will still be used in long-relief in certain situations given his success in that role, but he's expected to have more one-inning stints with right-hander Samuel Deduno also on the roster as a long reliever.
"Swarzy just gets guys out no matter where we put him," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He can stretch out three, four or five innings. He keeps saying he wants to be a starter, but he'll do anything it takes. That's the kind of people you want on your baseball team. We've got a good situation. There's a lot of places I'd pitch either one of those guys. It doesn't have to be long, but they're good at that."
Gardy: Lineup shuffling will be common
CHICAGO -- The Twins shuffled their lineup against the White Sox on Wednesday, as Joe Mauer moved up into the two-hole while Kurt Suzuki slid down to bat seventh with right-hander Felipe Paulino on the mound.
Suzuki hit second in the first game of the season on Wednesday, going 2-for-4 with three RBIs, but Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said the lineup is still a work in progress.
"We're going to move him up and down the lineup, and we're going to move our lineup around an awful lot," Gardenhire said. "We're going to change it up."
Jason Kubel also made his first start of the year, batting cleanup and starting in left field with Josh Willingham hitting third and serving as designated hitter.
Twins catcher Josmil Pinto is expected to make his first start on Thursday over Suzuki with left-hander Jose Quintana on the mound for Chicago in the series finale.
"Suzuki is our starter, so he's going to catch a lot of games," Gardenhire said. "Pinto is going to play a lot, too. So we'll get Pinto into a lot of ballgames."
Hicks comes out of gate strong with lumber
CHICAGO -- Aaron Hicks has been known as a slow starter at just about every level throughout his career, and it was certainly the case last year, when he opened his big league career by going just 2-for-48.
But Hicks started out strong on Opening Day against the White Sox on Monday, going 2-for-3 with a double to match his hit total through his first 13 games last year in just one day. He followed that up with a 2-for-4, two-walk effort in Wednesday's 7-6 loss to Chicago. And now he's looking to build on that and avoid the early-season struggles he endured last year.
"I just want to get off to a good start," Hicks said. "It's a pretty good start, but it's a long season. It feels good when you get those two hits. Makes you feel more comfortable when you go into the next game."
Hicks started out batting leadoff last season -- and still has the potential to bat atop the lineup -- but the Twins are trying to take the pressure off him by batting him eighth early in the year. Hicks said he's fine with that decision, with Brian Dozier serving as the club's leadoff hitter in the interim.
"Hitting eighth, I guess, takes a lot off of me," Hicks said. "I can come up and take a pitch and try to drive guys in."
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has sensed a difference in Hicks, who had a solid showing in Spring Training and is showing more confidence than last year.
"Hicksy's attitude and the way he went about it in spring was different," Gardenhire said. "He knows the game can slap you upside the head a little bit and beat you around. So he's a little bit more prepared. He's kind of on a mission, which is a good thing."