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Updated: November 17th, 2010 9:30pm
Gardenhire says Twins 'like Hardy a lot' but 'we're looking' at others

Gardenhire says Twins 'like Hardy a lot' but 'we're looking' at others

by Phil Mackey
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Shortly after being crowned American League Manager of the Year, Minnesota Twins skipper Ron Gardenhire answered questions about the team's middle infield situation heading into 2011.

The Twins must decide whether to bring back free agent second baseman Orlando Hudson, and also whether to tender a contract offer to arbitration-eligible shortstop J.J. Hardy.

Indications are strong that Hudson will not be retained.

The decision on Hardy -- who, when healthy, was a productive player in 2010 -- could go either way.

"We want to get back to the speed game," Gardenhire said in an interview with 1500 ESPN on Wednesday. "And we want to get back to pushing the issue on the base paths, and running the bases a lot better than we did this year, so we're going to do that."

The manager added, "We all know Hardy doesn't run like he used to, and when you're talking about injecting speed, there's only a few places that you can do that, and shortstop is one of them.

"We like Hardy a lot. He's a great guy, great teammate, and we believe when he's healthy he's solid at shortstop. But when you start looking at speed and everything, and other options, that's one of the areas we're going to look at options at and see if we can find more speed -- a little more versatility out there.

"So we're looking, and not to say we don't want Hardy back, but we're just trying to make our ballclub better."

According to multiple reports, the Twins are likely to place a bid on 24-year-old Japanese shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who has hit .287/.361/.427 with 30 home runs and 71 stolen bases in three seasons in the Japan Pacific League.

Beyond that, Gardenhire said the team is likely to give extended playing time to Alexi Casilla, either at shortstop or second base.

"It's time to get him back out there," Gardenhire said about Casilla, who has hit just .249/.306/.327 in 1,073 career plate appearances. "He had a good year a couple years ago.

"He'll have to earn it in Spring Training, but I'm hoping that I've sure got this guy in the lineup somewhere."

The Twins also have Matt Tolbert, Trevor Plouffe and Luke Hughes as major-league ready middle infielders available on the 40-man roster.

As for the middle infield free agent pool, well... It's pretty thin.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd