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Updated: February 18th, 2012 2:18pm
Notebook: Twins players are 'just embarrassed' about 2011

Notebook: Twins players are 'just embarrassed' about 2011

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Hammond Stadium clubhouse was filled with handshakes and hugs on Saturday -- the Minnesota Twins' official spring training reporting day for pitchers and catchers.

And even though several players have been working out together in Fort Myers for a few days, or even a few weeks, those hugs and handshakes still seemed to have a different vibe this year, coming off 99 losses, compared to last year, when the Twins had aspirations of winning 90+ games again.

"Maybe you have a little more hunger," said closer Matt Capps. "You've been humbled a little bit. Maybe a different drive."

Beginning Sunday, 33 pitchers and eight catchers will begin group workouts. Next Thursday, 25 position players will join them when full-squad workouts commence.

Beyond that, the only real consensus among players who are returning from last year's rubble is that 2011 "was a bad year," as Joe Mauer put it. Nobody really knows what to expect over the next few months.

"I've kind of been answering those questions all winter, and it left a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths, and mine included," added Mauer, who expects to have an entirely different spring training experience this year. "But it's a new year, and as soon as we can forget about 2011 the better, and focus on not letting it happen again. ...

"It's tough. We're used to winning around here, and last season happened. You can't ignore it or make excuses (about) what happened. I think it's probably good for everybody to check themselves in the mirror and make sure something like that doesn't happen again."

Many of the early projections have the Twins finishing fourth or fifth in the American League Central, and "that's fine," said Glen Perkins. "That's why we play, and we'll find out as the season goes on how good we are. ...

"I don't think our season last year gave the media, or whoever is picking, a whole lot of hope. I mean, you lose 99 games, I don't think you're going to come in the next year and people are going to say, 'Yeah, these guys are going to win it.'"

If healthy -- which is a big if, considering the questions surrounding Justin Morneau, Denard Span and others -- the Twins should score several more runs than the 619 they scratched across last season. But the starting rotation looks like a mass of uncertainty on paper, with Nick Blackburn coming off forearm surgery, Francisco Liriano posting a 5.00+ ERA last season, and Scott Baker's season being shortened with more elbow discomfort.

"I know that we should all have very big expectations and that should be the bottom line," said Carl Pavano, who was the only Twins' starter to throw more than 170 innings in 2011. "Everyone should have expectations to go out there and compete and do your job and play good as a team and the rest will take care of itself."

Not to mention, the bullpen's success hinges on a number of pitchers staying healthier than they have in the past (Joel Zumaya) or stepping up to a new plateau and taking on a more important role (Anthony Swarzak, Alex Burnett, Brian Duensing).

Plus, the American League is loaded with playoff-caliber teams.

"That's perfectly fine with me," Mauer said. "Keep talking about Detroit. I think we've won in the past and people weren't talking about us, so we're definitely fine in that position. ...

"If you don't have that chip on your shoulder then something's wrong. I think everybody, including myself, is just embarrassed about how last year played out. Just anxious to get back on the field and play."

Baker confident in elbow

After elbow discomfort cut Baker's career season short, the right-hander reported to camp this week considering the ailment, "As of right now... a non-issue at this point in the offseason."

Baker threw a bullpen session off a mound on Friday, and he expects to jump into group workouts with no limitations.

"It was a good and productive offseason. It was the reason why I chose to rehab for six weeks to throw two or three innings (at the end of last season) so it would allow me to have a normal offseason as far as the progression to get ready for spring training.

"Everything went great. No complaints. I worked hard. The more mature, the more you know yourself and the smarter you work. I don't know if I worked any harder but I definitely worked smarter. ...

"As far as I know, I'm starting just like anyone else would. That's what exactly what I wanted to happen."

Baker was one of the best pitchers in the American League when healthy last year, posting a 3.14 ERA with 123 strikeouts and only 30 unintentional walks in 134 2/3 innings.

But since becoming a full-time major league starter in 2008, Baker has thrown more than 172 innings in a season only once. Durability has been a question, and Baker's elbow has now flared up two seasons in a row.

"It just happens," Baker said. "I think you do the best you can and work as hard as you possibly can and sometimes things happen. Obviously, nobody wanted it not to happen more than me. I guess there's peace of mind knowing that I did everything I could to prepare myself for something like that not to happen. But it obviously did happen.

"I was having a decent season and, historically for me, I'm usually had better second halves than first halves, but I felt like a put together a pretty good first half and was on my way to a decent season. If the health is there this season, I can't see why I can't build off last season and try to help the team in a way we're going to need it."

Health report

A list of player health issues worth monitoring as workouts begin.

Numbers game

8, 9: Pounds and ounces for Matt Capps' first child, Maxwell, who was born on Feb. 8 in Atlanta.

41: Combined pitchers (33) and catchers (8) that will participate in the first official team workouts on Sunday.

Overheard

"I feel like I let a lot of people down last year, myself, the fans, especially Bill Smith and the organization when they made the trade that they made. They expected me to perform at a level higher than what I did last year and that didn't happen. I certainly felt like I wanted to come back here and do better by everybody. That's the bottom line. That's why I'm here."
-- Capps

"Yeah, I wrote down everything: 'At 10:02 I did this and ...' No, my thing was just to stay active. I didn't do a ton of weightlifting. I played a lot of racquetball and I swam. What worked for me last year is what I did this year, but as far as doing everything the same, I just make sure my arm's ready, and that's the most important thing to me -- making sure my arm's ready to go."
-- Perkins, when asked if he duplicated his same offseason program from a year ago.

On deck

Pitchers and catchers will begin workouts on Sunday at the Lee County Sports Complex.

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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