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Updated: March 20th, 2011 3:26pm
Live from Florida, Day 32: Baker's health key to final rotation spot

Live from Florida, Day 32: Baker's health key to final rotation spot

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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DUNEDIN, Fla. -- A rundown of the news, notes and quotes from Sunday at Minnesota Twins spring training:

Today's result

Blue Jays 3, Twins 0

If spring-training performances are any indication, right-handers Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey aren't making the decision easy for manager Ron Gardenhire in regards to who deserves the fifth starter spot.

Baker twirled four solid innings on Sunday against Toronto, allowing only one run on three hits and zero walks while striking out six.

Slowey, meanwhile, has not allowed a run in his last four spring-training outings, including a "B" game against the Pirates in early March.

Spring training performances do play a part, to some degree, in separating the two pitchers, but as Baker said Sunday, "I think they know what we're capable of doing."

"If they don't know by now, I don't know what to tell them. It's been five or six years with Gardy and (pitching coach Rick Anderson), and Slowey too."

For Baker, the key since last season has been health. He suffered through elbow tendinitis for much of 2010, receiving two cortisone shots and eventually undergoing offseason surgery to remove bone chips and spurs.

He experienced some discomfort early in spring training, and that discomfort hasn't completely gone away.

It's OK. Don't sound the alarms.

Many pitchers undergo similar procedures -- including Nick Blackburn, who experienced the same post-surgery discomfort prior to spring training but eventually turned out OK -- and the healing process is different for everybody.

"It takes a little longer to get loose still, but once I get loose and get the blood moving, I feel pretty good," Baker said. "So, I don't know, I think that's just part of it."

"It just takes a little while to feel 100 percent. I feel like the ball's coming out of my hand good. I was throwing all my pitches today, they were working well. So it's hard to complain right now.

"I feel like it's responding well and recovering well, besides taking a little longer to get loose."

The biggest issue for Baker early in camp was the minor discomfort he experienced when throwing his changeup -- discomfort he says he still experiences "a little bit" in warm-ups, "but once I get out there and the adrenaline's pumping, I don't think about it at all.

"So I guess that's a good indication that as long as I'm not feeling it in the game, that's where you want to be."

Baker will likely pitch in two more spring-training games before the regular season begins. If all checks out fine health-wise -- and Baker's velocity seems fine, resting in the 90-91 mph range -- it's likely Baker has a slight edge in the battle against Slowey because of his track record and $5 million salary.

Either way, however, Gardenhire says, "I'm not afraid to use them anywhere," referring to Slowey and Baker.

"They're serviceable pitchers, they're very good pitchers. We've lost a lot of bullpen guys, and you go with guys you trust. And I trust both those guys. I wouldn't be afraid to put them in the seventh inning, I wouldn't be afraid to put them in the eighth inning of ballgames."

Numbers game

2: The number of home runs Jim Thome mashed in a minor-league intra-squad game in Fort Myers on Sunday -- both two-run jobs.

12.9: The number of strikeouts per nine innings Pat Neshek tallied in his first season with the Twins in 2006. Facing little chance of landing a spot on the 25-man roster, Neshek was placed on outright waivers Friday and claimed by the Padres on Sunday.

Health watch

• OF Michael Cuddyer (foot) went 2-for-4 with a double and a mammoth two-run homer in the same minor-league game Thome played in. Cuddyer also played three innings in right field -- his first game action of the spring. On the double, Cuddyer was forced to slide into second base -- a good test, considering rounding bases was his biggest issue.

"I felt good," Cuddyer said. "It was good to get back out there. I look forward to continuing to play. Today was a step in the right direction."

Cuddyer will play outfield again in a minor league game on Monday.

• 1B Justin Morneau (concussion) did not play Sunday, but he is expected to DH in minor-league games on Monday and Tuesday while the "A" squad travels.

Overheard

"He'll make two or three pitches, and you're like, 'What is he doing?' And then all of the sudden boom, boom, boom, some of the nastiest pitches in the world."
-- Gardenhire on Baker

On deck

The Twins travel to Bradenton on Monday to face the Pirates. LHP Brian Duensing is scheduled to face LHP Paul Maholm.

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