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Updated: March 12th, 2012 4:17pm
Notebook: Dozier has best game of spring; Hughes belts game-winner

Notebook: Dozier has best game of spring; Hughes belts game-winner

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Brian Dozier came into Monday's game against the Tampa Bay Rays just 1-for-9 in official Grapefruit League competition, but there's a strong vibe in camp that he's going to make things interesting as the Minnesota Twins inch closer to important roster decisions.

The 24-year-old Dozier had his best showing of spring on Monday, going 2-for-4 with a walk, a sharp single and a controversial triple to deep left-center field off James Shields in the first inning.

The ball appeared to bounce off the wooden railing above the padded wall, which would indicate a home run, but umpires ruled the ball in play.

"I thought it was (out)," Dozier said. "Then (Rays left fielder) Desmond Jennings, my buddy -- he's from where I'm from -- he said it's clearly a home run. But at the same time, I'll take a triple."

Voted Twins minor league position player of the year this offseason for his .320/.399/.491 batting line at High-A and Double-A combined, Dozier, by rule, doesn't have to be placed on the 40-man roster until after this season.

But people in the organization love his poise at the plate, his sure-handedness in the field, and his overall demeanor.

The biggest question marks are whether he has enough range to play shortstop in the big leagues, and whether his numbers in the minor leagues might be skewed slightly by his advanced age.

Dozier's main advantage this spring is that he plays both middle infield positions, and the Twins lack depth up the middle. Right now the Twins are giving him every opportunity to prove himself at shortstop this spring.

His only mistake in the field Monday -- dropping a throw down from the catcher in the 10th inning -- is a microcosm of what he needs to iron out before becoming a big leaguer.

"I just want him to play, get out there and play," said manager Ron Gardenhire. "I liked him last year, like I said. He dropped the one throw out there at second, tried to tag the guy a little too quick, those are all the things that you hear. He gets a little sloppy at times, but he's been really good for us. That's the first really mistake he's made as far as not catching the ball first, and he's been working really hard at it all spring. He's slowed his game down a lot, and that's what you have to do."

Dozier added to that, "I think the biggest thing since I got to camp this year is to kind of have to adapt at slowing the game down and stuff. When you get to the big leagues, that's all I hear is slow the game down. Defensively, offensively, anything. And then I think that's the biggest thing with me. I just have to keep slowing the game down. I work on that in practice. Even Gardy, he kind of chirps to me off to the side if I start to get too quick with some things. I think that's the biggest thing right now."

This spring, Dozier has worked closely with hitting instructors Joe Vavra and Tom Brunansky, as well as veteran shortstop Jamey Carroll.

"With groundballs, hitting, (Carroll) just stresses slow it down, and sometimes I get too quick with double play turns and stuff like that, especially in practice," Dozier said. "But slow the game down and make sure you catch the ball and you'll be fine."

Today's result

Twins 2, Rays 1

• Twins' spring record: 6-5

Luke Hughes' solo homer in the top of the tenth inning on a fastball, middle-in, proved to be the deciding run. Hughes also played the full game at second base, which is the first time he's done that since coming back from a shoulder strain. "Consistency, that's the key for me, being able to day in and day out actually put consistently good swings on the ball. That's key for me. That's something I'm trying to work on a lot in the cages and stuff like that, work on squaring the ball up more. But yeah, that's definitely something I'm going to have to work on for the rest of spring."

Carl Pavano stretched out to 60 pitches (43 strikes) over four innings, allowing only one earned run on four hits. He walked one, struck out three, and induced four groundballs out of 10 put into play.

• DH Joe Mauer went 0-for-2 with a walk and a lineout to center.

• Jason Bulger pitched a clean seventh inning, which is significant considering heading into Monday's game he had recorded only three outs in his previous two outings combined. Over those two outings Bulger allowed nine earned runs on six hits and five walks. "He got the ball and asked me if I'd sign it for him," Gardenhire said. "He said that's the first time all spring you haven't taken it from me. That's entertainment."

Health report

• OF Denard Span said he doesn't believe his stiff neck has any relation to his concussion or vestibular issues that hindered him last year. His plan was to take light swings on Monday before seeing the chiropractor for an adjustment later in the day. Span would like to play in Tuesday's game against Toronto, but he'll meet w/ trainers at some point to discuss.

• INF Tsuyoshi Nishioka remains day-to-day with a strained left pinky.

Numbers game

1: Diving catch by centerfielder Darin Mastroianni on a tailing liner in the sixth inning.

2: Base stealers thrown out by catcher Ryan Doumit with Pavano on the mound. "Catchers always know the running teams, and I knew the Rays were going to be one of them," Doumit said. "I was happy to be tested today."

12: First pitch strikes to 15 batters by Pavano, whose 66% first-pitch strike rate last year was second on the team only to Kevin Slowey (73%).

36: Bunt hits by the Twins last year, which ranked third in baseball behind the Angels (48) and Rockies (36). Casilla led the team with 12. Here's why this is relevant.

Overheard

"I think I was throwing 88, maybe some 86s. But I know in my first two starts I was reaching back and throwing some 84s. So I was really getting scared for a minute there."
-- Pavano joking about velocity, which is always a notch or two slower at this point in March for all pitchers.

On deck

Tuesday: vs. Blue Jays, 12:05 p.m. LHP Francisco Liriano vs. LHP Brett Cecil
Wednesday: @ Phillies, 12:05 p.m. RHP Jason Marquis vs. RHP Roy Halladay
Thursday: vs. Pirates, 12:05 p.m. RHP Scott Baker vs. LHP Jo-Jo Reyes

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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