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Updated: April 10th, 2011 9:33pm
Mackey: Gardenhire will give Casilla time to prove himself, either way

Mackey: Gardenhire will give Casilla time to prove himself, either way

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- It's hardly responsible to draw cogent conclusions after only nine games, but it's clear the Minnesota Twins -- losers of their first three series to start the season -- have not hit full stride.

Or anything even resembling a light jog.

Joe Mauer is batting .233/.303/.267 with one extra-base hit. Delmon Young has stumbled to a .188/.212/.219 start after a sizzling spring. Danny Valencia is at .194/.265/.290, and that's after singling twice in Sunday's game. Michael Cuddyer's .107/.194/.107 line barely registers on the oximeter.

But those players have strong job security. Along with the likelihood that their numbers will eventually turn around comes the peace of mind of knowing they'll be allowed to remain in the lineup either way.

Shortstop Alexi Casilla, on the other hand, is just trying to show he belongs in the lineup every day -- even if overtures made by the organization prior to the season indicated that he does, indeed, have some semblance of job security.

After all, there simply aren't any clear-cut, viable replacements lurking behind him, and now that Tsuyoshi Nishioka is likely out for two months with a broken fibula, the middle-infield depth is even thinner.

Problem is, Casilla's not off to the greatest start this season, hitting just .167/.211/.278 with zero walks. He has also dealt with a communication breakdown or two up the middle.

The middle innings of Saturday night's 1-0 loss were especially unkind to Casilla.

With the score tied 0-0 in the bottom of the fifth inning, Valencia and Luke Hughes tallied back-to-back singles off A's left-hander Gio Gonzalez, putting runners on the corners with nobody out.

Casilla came up with a chance to give the Twins a lead, needing nothing more than a flyball to the outfield or a groundball up the middle, but he swung at a curveball and tapped a weak grounder back to the mound. Gonzalez looked Valencia back to third before firing to first to retire Casilla.

The very next half inning, with two outs and Kurt Suzuki standing on second base, Mark Ellis hit a routine groundball toward Casilla at shortstop. Casilla fielded, but fired low to Morneau at first base. The ball skipped past Morneau and into the seats, allowing Suzuki to score what turned out to be the game-winning run.

"He told me again (Sunday) morning that he felt like he lost the game," manager Ron Gardenhire said about his shortstop. "And I said, 'just understand one thing, son. It's 'we.' It's always 'we' around here,'"

"You get into that 'me, me, I' stuff, I'm not big on that. It's 'we lost as a team.' A lot of people could have taken control of that game and done something to win a game. So it's us. He made an error, and yes, he didn't knock in a run, but other people had a chance to. He also made a diving play up the middle that saved a run and kept it within one. It's a 'we' thing. This is not an 'I' thing, and he has to understand that.

"We all feel bad, and it's good you feel bad about your performance, if something didn't go your way. You care. but also, it's us. I want him to understand, it's us."

Casilla followed Saturday's rough showing by going 0-for-2 on Sunday with a strikeout and a sac bunt.

Again, too early to judge, but as Gardenhire put it, Casilla "wants to prove that he can play this position, and (he's) trying a little hard.

"We've thrown a lot on him about trying to take control of the infield and helping out with Nishi and the language stuff. And that's throwing a lot at him, but he seemed to grasp it and run with it in spring training. Now you've got to carry it into here."

Web gems coupled with head-scratching mistakes. Clutch hits surrounded by prolonged stretches of offensive futility. That's sort of been Casilla's mantra over the last few years.

Casilla's last chance at a starting job came in 2009, when he began the season as the Twins' second baseman and No. 2 hitter after showing promise in 2008.

It took until only May 5 before Casilla was replaced. Through the first 24 games that season, he was hitting just .167/.231/.202 with only two extra-base hits.

But for those looking at Rochester Red Wings box scores over the last few days and noticing shortstop Trevor Plouffe's three home runs in four games, don't get too far ahead of yourselves.

"He's our shortstop," Gardenhire said of Casilla.

"I'm sure he has a little fluttering going on. He wants to get off to a good start, and he wants to be the guy, and as I said, we're going to see what happens with this young man. It's time. Either he gets it done or doesn't, and this is a good time for him. He's an athlete, he can play. We've all seen him really play. He's just got to do it on a consistent basis, and whether he can or not, that's what we're going to find out."

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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