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Updated: April 13th, 2012 6:30pm
Notebook: Casilla 'needs to be better'; Morneau to contact Thome

Notebook: Casilla 'needs to be better'; Morneau to contact Thome

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- With the Texas Rangers sending a tough left-hander on the mound in Matt Harrison, Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire penciled in a righty-heavy lineup, along with left-handers Denard Span, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.

One of those right-handed hitters was second baseman Luke Hughes, who came through with two RBIs in two plate appearances late in Thursday's game to help the Twins take two out of three from the Los Angeles Angels.

Hughes, who led the Twins this spring with six home runs, started in place of Alexi Casilla, who has reached base just twice (two singles) in his 14 plate appearances so far.

Gardenhire insisted that starting Hughes over Casilla "is not punishment. ... I want the other guys to play. (But Casilla) needs to be better than he is right now."

It's hard to hide the face that Casilla owns just a .182/.225/.214 batting line in 207 career April plate appearances. He is a notoriously slow starter, and it took him until late May to start hitting in 2011. With Brian Dozier lurking at Triple-A, and Hughes already lurking on the 25-man roster, a slow start is not what Casilla needs.

"He comes out of winter ball swinging it as good as anybody, comes to spring training does OK, but then he starts off a little slow," Gardenhire said. "I wish I had an answer for you. Right now, he's a little sloppy. He's a little long with his swing. Maybe he's trying to do too much, maybe that's it. ...

"He's been a little sloppy out in the field, too. Maybe you just have to kick him in the ass enough to where we can get him going. So maybe sitting him every once in a while will get him going, so we'll see. ...

"We need double plays turned, and he's as good as anybody, but you can't get sloppy. I have a lot of confidence in Alexi Casilla to play the game, but he's got to get going with everybody else."

From May 15 until a hamstring injury sidelined him at the end of July, Casilla hit .288/.352/.408 in 274 plate appearances last year. That's the hitter the Twins hope emerges.

Morneau to contact Thome

Justin Morneau is doing his best to put health questions to bed with his fast start.

His two-run homer on Thursday capped a six-run comeback to lead the Twins to victory over the Angels, and he also has two doubles on the young season.

It's likely he will continue to occupy the DH slot for the foreseeable future, at least until interleague play forces him to play a few games at first base.

For now, Morneau is still trying to get acclimated to his new role.

"Getting there," he said after Thursday's game. "It's something I talked about before -- I don't want to go down (into the cage) and swing every inning and end up doing more than I would if I were actually in the game, so it's different. I need to take enough to stay loose but not take too much. I'm trying to find the right balance. I think the other day I probably rode the bike for 45 minutes, trying to keep my legs going while paying attention to the game. I think that was probably a little too much.

"I'll probably call (Jim) Thome in the next couple days and see what he did. When he was doing it, I was in the field so it was hard to pay attention."

Morneau said the most difficult part about DHing is to stay warm "and not feel like you're pinch hitting four times in a game."

He also said DHing has allowed him to build more strength as the spring and season moved along.

"Usually you start to get pretty worn down when you're playing every day, out there running around. I lifted after the night game in Baltimore the other day, and if I played in the field I would usually delay that a day. I've been able to get stronger as we're going, so hopefully I'll be back soon to the way I usually feel."

Quick hits

• RHP Kyle Waldrop (right inner-elbow strain) has thrown from 90 feet and 120 feet over the past couple days, and the plan is for him to throw off a mound on Sunday. If all goes well, it's likely he will throw a bullpen session on Tuesday. Because of the location of his elbow strain (UCL, which is Tommy John territory), the team is being as cautious as possible.

• The Twins have hit five home runs at Target Field so far this season. They didn't hit their fifth home run at home until May 11 last year.

Scott Baker's flexor pronator tendon surgery will be performed by Dr. David Altchek on Tuesday in New York. The rehab process is expected to take six months.

• The Rochester Red Wings placed outfielder Rene Tosoni on the seven-day disabled list due to the lacerated finger he suffered sliding into home plate on Saturday.

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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