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Updated: January 27th, 2012 4:33pm
Notebook: Pavano to start opening day; bullpen 'the biggest question'

Notebook: Pavano to start opening day; bullpen 'the biggest question'

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- During a media luncheon at Target Field on Friday, Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire confirmed Carl Pavano will start opening day against the Baltimore Orioles on April 6.

"He's going to start opening day on the road, and then we should have Scott Baker, and this is if it all goes according to plan, if they all get through spring training," Gardenhire said.

Pavano's ERA dipped from 3.75 in 2010 to 4.30 in 2011, but much of that was likely due to poor infield defense behind him. In both seasons, Pavano has pitched 220+ innings while inducing more than 50% groundballs, ranking the right-hander near the top of the American League in both categories.

Gardenhire also made multiple references to the fact that he needs to know whom Pavano wants to catch him. Drew Butera caught 28 of Pavano's 33 starts last season, but with Ryan Doumit in the picture Butera isn't guaranteed a roster spot.

Pavano, 36, has one more year left on the two-year contract he signed last offseason.

Behind Pavano and Baker, Gardenhire said Francisco Liriano will likely be the No. 3 starter.

"They said he's throwing the ball great (in winter ball)," Gardenhire said. "His first couple outings down there were a little bit flinging the ball all over. But he settled in. The big thing with Frankie, and we saw it, last year he came in (to spring training), he hurt himself. Two years ago, he pitched down there and had a lot of confidence, did very well.

"He's got some confidence going right now. The ball's coming out of his hand. He's had some success down there. Our scouts have been telling us that the ball's really coming out of his hand nice. He's in control. The ball's snapping down towards the bottom of the zone, which -- if he comes in with confidence, the sky's the limit for him."

Bullpen 'the biggest question'

Much like last season, the Twins enter spring training with plenty of bullpen uncertainty.

In fact, at Friday's luncheon, general manager Terry Ryan referred to the bullpen as "the biggest question" on the roster.

Left-hander Glen Perkins was by far the most reliable reliever in the Twins' 'pen, and he'll likely be joined by fellow lefty Brian Duensing, who pitched well in his late-inning role in 2010.

Beyond that, the Twins need right-handers Joel Zumaya and Matt Capps to bounce back from injury and ineffectiveness, respectively.

With Capps, Gardenhire believes he "absolutely" can have a bounce-back season.
"This guy's got a good track record. He's closed in the big leagues for a couple of years. Last year was a little bit rough. But there was a lot of things that went into that that people didn't really get. We beat the fire out of him...

"He kept pitching all year long. He never complained about anything. He's game-on. We'll take our chances with him. He knows how to do it, and hopefully, he'll get it done at the end. We have a lot of confidence in him and we're happy to have him back."

Zumaya will likely be handled in a similar manner to how the Twins handled Joe Nathan.

"It was the same situation coming in coming off a big surgery like that and some other issues," Gardenhire said. "We know it's going to probably be early in the season, if you pitch him, you probably give him a day off and back. So, we're going to have to kind of work our way through it. The player's going to tell us how he's doing, but we know that we're going to protect this guy, we'd like to have him healthy and I think (pitching coach Rick Anderson) and I have a pretty good plan on how to do those things with players like that. We'll probably do the same thing with him. Nathan got better and better as we went along last year, the ball came out of his hand better at the end and we protected him and we can do the same thing for Zumaya."

Gardenhire wants more control

When asked about the spring workload of center fielder Denard Span -- who seems optimistic heading to Fort Myers -- Gardenhire said, "I'll let him dictate that," but then followed-up by painting a broader picture of the Twins' injury situation from last year.

"I want those guys to get out there and get plenty of at-bats. You know what? I was under the control of a lot of doctors last year. I really hope that I have control this year of spring training, where I can get the guys ready like I've been able to do for as long as I've been in the game. So, that's my big goal this year, is to get to spring training and have control of these guys and not having doctors tell me how many innings they can play and how many days they can play a week. I would like to be able to control that, and hopefully, that will be where we can get to in spring training."

Ryan added the Twins "are in good shape" injury-wise, and the team plans to put players through physicals at TwinsFest. Ryan specifically said the team wants 140 games out of Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer.

"You need them on the field that much," Gardenhire said. "They're MVP players. We need them on the field for that many ballgames. They know that, and no one wants to be out there more than those two."

Middle infield set?

There will be no uncertainty up the middle, at least for now.

Gardenhire confirmed Friday that free agent acquisition Jamey Carroll is the shortstop and Alexi Casilla the second baseman to start with, but the manager said he plans to give Tsuyoshi Nishioka a fair look as well.

The infield defense as a whole was rated the worst in baseball according to video scouts at Baseball Info Solutions, and that includes third base, where Danny Valencia struggled on balls hit to his left.

"They told me he's in great shape," Gardenhire said. "He's worked very hard at his range, his quickness and his first step. Hopefully, he'll cover some ground over there and do a little better than he did last year and we'll catch the balls we're supposed to."

Valencia essentially said the same thing during an interview with 1500 ESPN on Thursday.

Quick hits

• Twins president Dave St. Peter says team has sold 2.2 million tickets for 2012, meaning the Twins should make another push for 3 million fans.

• Ryan: "The 2011 season we need to put behind us and the sooner the better."

• What did Gardenhire learn last season? "Losing sucks."

• Span on expectations: "Everybody's counting us out, and we like that. I was watching MLB Network the other night, and all they were talking about was Detroit and every other team. They didn't even mention the Minnesota Twins in the Central Division. I thought we changed divisions."

• Gardy on reaction to Tigers signing Prince: "I coughed. Twice. You can print that. That's as far as we need to go."

Tom Pelissero contributed to this report

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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