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Updated: September 22nd, 2011 11:35pm
Mackey: Accountability issues in clubhouse? Or just growing pains?

Mackey: Accountability issues in clubhouse? Or just growing pains?

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- With losses piling up night after night down the stretch, the Minnesota Twins are learning lessons about accountability.

A great example came on Wednesday, when for the second consecutive night the Twins loaded the bases with nobody out in an inning but failed to score.

The previous night, trailing by one in the bottom of the ninth with the bags packed, Michael Cuddyer struck out on a breaking pitch to help kill a similar rally. After the strikeout, Cuddyer owned it, saying, "I didn't get the job done. You can't strike out with the bases loaded, and I did. ... I'll take that one tonight, because I didn't come through."

Fast forward back to Wednesday, when Trevor Plouffe, who had three hits in the game, swung at a 2-0 pitch after Mariners' righty Michael Pineda had just walked the previous batter on four pitches. Plouffe hit a weak chopper to first base that was turned into a rally-killing double play.

Yes, Plouffe did have three hits in the game, but the bases-loaded at-bat was perhaps the most important situation of the game. The Mariners tied the game by scoring two runs in the next inning, then eventually took the lead and won the game.

"I'll tell you the same thing I said (Tuesday) night with the Michael Cuddyer at-bat," Gardenhire said after Wednesday's game. "I thought Michael handled himself very well (with reporters). You can ask Trevor Plouffe about that at-bat. I think we all saw what was going on. Six straight balls, not really close, and you swing 2-0. Just ask him about that, what his thought process was. Those are the types of things you have to learn from. Those cost you ballgames. That guy was in trouble and we took him right out of it."

This was essentially Gardenhire's way of saying, "OK, kid. You saw how the veteran handled himself with the media after failing in a key at-bat. Let's see how you handle it."

Plouffe responded in the clubhouse by saying, "In hindsight I would have taken that at-bat a different way. He walked Danny on four pitches and got 2-0 to me, and in my mind I said I need to zone in on the perfect pitch, and I didn't get the perfect pitch. I was trying to be aggressive."

Plouffe added, "I don't care about the three hits. I just want to win."

Plouffe appeared slightly more than mildly annoyed that his at-bat was the focus in a game filled with other missed opportunities by other players. But it was a huge at-bat, and to his credit, Plouffe did send the right verbal message with his post-game comments.

Of course, accountability applies to more than just post-game interviews, and that goes for everyone.

Those are the types of at-bats -- and by no means is Plouffe the only culprit -- that have driven the manager and coaching staff crazy throughout the season. Same goes for the excessive amount of baserunning and defensive miscues as well.

But due to a barrage of injuries, the Twins have had no choice but to field lineups full of players who aren't ready to handle regular playing time in the major leagues. Mistakes are to be expected.

This creates a bit of a conundrum for the manager, who's been trying to balance teaching with patience.

With Plouffe on Wednesday, for instance -- should the focus be on his three hits? Or does Gardenhire have the right to go Jimmy Dugan on his young shortstop for the poor bases-loaded at-bat?

"I'm trying to figure them out, personally," Gardenhire said. "I'm trying to see what makes these guys tick. I've been around them, but put them in strange circumstances like this -- the losing, and the way we've been losing -- and you really probably see more about a person than when it's going along just fine, to see really what you have."

Problem is, it's getting to the point where if someone hits a double to the gap in the top of the inning and then makes an error in the bottom half, some of the younger players get annoyed by coaches pointing out the error.

They sometimes feel as if the coaches won't let them breathe and only focus on the negatives.

Constructive criticism?

Or piling on?

"Accountable," Gardenhire said. "(Cuddyer) knows what his job is. 'That's my job, I've got to do a better job,' he said (after striking out with the bases loaded). 'I was put in a situation.' He's a veteran. He knows what he's supposed to do. He's supposed to get a run in there and he didn't get it done, and he didn't say, 'Well, the guy made great pitches.' He basically told you, 'I didn't get it done.' That's being accountable -- not any of the other stuff you hear too much of. That's what I liked about it, is you can go talk to Michael Cuddyer, he's going to stand in front of his locker and wait for (reporters) to come to him. Most of the time, good or bad. ...

"I think a lot of young players go through that. They learn to be accountable. All you have to do is talk to Pavano, Cuddyer. Those guys are pretty much accountable on everything that happens. They're accountable. They're always accountable."

Gardenhire added, "We're trying to get accountability and understand the game. When we talk to (the younger guys), we just want them to know -- it's not blasting you. It's trying to help you."

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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