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Updated: June 1st, 2010 12:48am
Mackey: The Cuddyer 2B experiment was fun for a minute, but that's plenty

Mackey: The Cuddyer 2B experiment was fun for a minute, but that's plenty

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

Before every game this season, manager Ron Gardenhire must decide how to rotate four players -- Jim Thome, Michael Cuddyer, Delmon Young, and Jason Kubel -- into two corner outfield spots and a DH slot.

Well, Gardenhire looks like a genius now, because not only did he find a way to get all four of those guys in the starting lineup by inserting Cuddyer at second base in place of the temporarily sidelined Orlando Hudson, but three of those four players -- Cuddyer, Kubel, and Young -- hit home runs off Mariners starting pitcher Doug Fister, as the Twins beat Seattle 5-4 on Monday night.

During the game, many people probably wondered why Cuddyer would start at second base for the first time in five years while Alexi Casilla and Brendan Harris sat on the bench. That query was partially answered when Casilla (elbow) was placed on the DL after the game.

The Cuddyer experiment worked. Well sort of. The Twins won, they hit a bunch of home runs, and nobody (Cuddyer) lost any teeth.

Cuddyer, who wore one of Nick Punto's gloves -- fitting, because Punto apparently convinced Gardenhire on the plane ride that starting Cuddyer at second base was the best option -- had chances to turn double plays in the third and fourth innings.

His trigger was slow in the third, although it's unlikely any other second basemen would have turned two on that play either, as Milton Bradley was flying down the line. Cuddyer made a low throw on his fourth-inning attempt, and Justin Morneau was unable to dig it out. He also bobbled a tough hop in the fifth that allowed Ichiro to reach on an infield single, but made up for it by making a tough backhanded stab to gun down Ichiro later in the game.

Of course, going 2-for-4 with a home run and two RBIs helped make up for any defensive deficiencies and/or awkwardness on this particular night.

With Hudson sidelined and Punto struggling eternally at the plate, baseball simpletons will argue that Cuddyer is a perfect fit for second or third base and should continue to play somewhere in the infield long-term, because that would allow the Twins to always have him, Thome, Kubel, Morneau, and Young in the lineup.

Sure, and maybe the Twins can trade for Adam Dunn and plug him in at shortstop if Hardy doesn't pick it up offensively.

That line of thinking doesn't take into account defense, which has been a major strong suit for the Twins this season. With Punto, Hardy, and Hudson in the infield, the Twins have a fantastic mix of defense and offense, especially when Hardy is swinging the bat well.

"He's hit 20-plus home runs in a year, and he's down in the eight-hole," Gardenhire said about Hardy this past weekend. "That say a little bit about the depth, and it also says a little bit about how good we are."

Having three Dan Ugglas in the infield -- or three Cuddyers -- looks good on paper, but the pitchers wouldn't appreciate such rugged glove work, and the team, as a whole, would leak a ton of runs defensively (see: Suns, Phoenix).

"(Punto's) value, as we said, if you've got people in the middle like Hardy and Hudson who can really hit, then you can afford to have it where you don't get as much production out of third base, and that's kind of where we're at," Gardenhire said.

"He's probably won I don't know how many games with his glove. It's hard to count them. So it's not always just the offensive stuff, it's the defensive stuff too, which we value very highly around here."

As blogger pal and NBC Sports writer Aaron Gleeman correctly pointed out to me during a conversation last night, suggesting that Cuddyer's defense didn't hurt the Twins on Monday is like saying a starting pitcher who gave up six earned runs didn't hurt his team because the offense scored 11.

The experiment was fun to watch for a few hours, but let's try to get Hudson, Hardy, and Punto all healthy at the same time, eh?

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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