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Updated: February 19th, 2012 2:21pm
Notebook: Twins will 'pound on fundamentals more than we ever have'

Notebook: Twins will 'pound on fundamentals more than we ever have'

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Day 1 of workouts for Minnesota Twins pitchers and catchers included bullpen sessions, pitcher fielding practice, pick-off moves and other basic fundamental drills that might put casual observers to sleep.

But those fundamentals -- a staple of six division titles since 2002 -- went awry in 2011.

The infield defense, by almost any measure, rated among baseball's worst. Baserunning mistakes were frequent. And the Twins also ranked near the bottom of the league in other "little things" categories -- converting bunts to outs on defense, infield hits allowed and productive outs percentage.

Manager Ron Gardenhire intends on cleaning up the mess over the next two weeks.

"We had so many different people, and you run through so many different things and when you get young guys out there on the field it gets a little hairy here and there. We changed so many different positions and that gets a little ugly, but there's still no excuse for it, because we go through it all through our minor leagues too.

"And I think that was the disappointing thing, the concentration level obviously wasn't great. Because we know, we know we work on this thing, we always have, we've always done very well at it. Last year was just one of those years where we were terrible. So we have to emphasize it even more. It's never been a problem around here. We've always been solid at it. We just had a bad year, so we're going to put that thing behind us and get back out there and do the same things we've always done and maybe do it more. ...

"We're definitely going to cover the fundamental sessions more than once. Normally we touch on everything, and then we just kind of re-touch it as we go through spring training, but before the games start we'll pound on fundamentals a lot more than we ever have."

To ensure more time for fundamentals, the Twins added three days to the spring training schedule this season. They'll also play more 'B' games, in addition to regular spring training games, and pitchers have been divvied up into four groups instead of three.

"We're adding more pickoffs and things with our pitching groups," Gardenhire said. "We've got one field that's all talking about defense and the running game -- not the signs, but the pickoffs. And eventually we're going to get people over there and we're going to do pickoffs at second, pickoffs at third, we're going to emphasize pitchers defending the running game even better, which helps.

"We've changed what we're going to do at the end the last three days before the games. We're probably going to play a 'B' game before we start our regular schedule. We're looking to schedule a 'B' game with the (Red) Sox or somebody like that and get some guys pitching, because we have so much pitching. So we're looking to add 'B' games and more games, because we need to see these guys."

There were a couple instances on Sunday when Gardenhire, or fellow spring instructor and former manager Tom Kelly, would stop a drill to explain something. This happened a number of times during pitcher fielding practice when a pitcher's technique would be off when covering first base, or if communication needed to be clarified between pitcher and catcher.

"We've always stopped (drills)," Gardenhire said. "My problem is not the stopping part or explaining what went wrong, my problem is having players understand that we're not stopping to embarrass them. We're stopping to make our team better, and as I explained this morning, when we stop a drill, when we stop something and we see something we don't like, it's because we actually care that we get it right. It's not to embarrass anybody.

"So if you have a problem and you feel like you're thrown under the bus, then you might as well throw that right out the door. You've got to get that off your shoulders, because we're going to do it. We're going to get it right. That's what we're paid to do is get it right and make sure we cover everything.

"Do a coat check here. That ego needs to stay right outside this clubhouse. Get in here and let's get back to work and grind it out. You can't do anything about what happened last year now. All we can do is make sure it doesn't happen again this year."

Mauer 23 days ahead of last year's schedule

Due to his recovery from offseason knee surgery, Joe Mauer didn't catch his first bullpen session in spring training last season until March 12.

Things are different this time around, as Mauer caught three bullpen sessions on the first day of workouts Sunday -- 25 pitches from Carlos Gutierrez, 15 pitches from Brendan Wise and 48 pitches from Jason Marquis -- while also partaking in batting practice and all of the pitcher fielding practice drills.

"This is the best I've felt in a long time," Mauer said. "It's almost like you want to get out there and do everything the first day but it's a process. It was good working today, though."

Mauer frequently mentioned last season that his back leg wasn't strong enough to consistently push off and drive the ball -- something he considers a non-issue right now.

"Back leg, just flexibility," he said. "My legs feel good and (I'm) just allowed to do things I wasn't allowed to do last season, so.....it felt good to get out there today. It's only day one so you have to work your way up to opening day.''

Zumaya throws first bullpen session of spring

Right-hander Joel Zumaya threw 10 warm-up pitches, then 30 more to catcher J.R. Towles in a bullpen session.

Gardenhire said the Twins will take a similar approach with Zumaya to the one they took with Joe Nathan last spring.

"We want to protect him as much as we can," Gardenhire said. "We know health is a big thing. We want to try to keep him for a full year and keep him on the field for a full year. So I think we did a really good job of holding Nathan off."

Zumaya hasn't pitched in a major league game since June of 2010 due to two major elbow surgeries, but despite that he says he's fully confident in his arm.

"If I didn't have confidence, I never would have got signed," Zumaya said. "Going through all this, I had to let it go as the past. I'm coming in as a fresh beginning, and I'm ready to go."

He added, "I've told them, 'Don't baby me; I'm here to go full out now.' I took a whole year off, so my arm is basically healthy. Progressing will be the main thing. They want me to progress to 100 percent; they won't want me to rush out and try to blow 100 (mph) right out of the door. I might have been told three or four times, 'Hey, just settle down a little bit and go at your pace.'"

Health report

• MI Brian Dozier is day-to-day with a cut on one of his fingers. He likely won't swing for the next couple days.

• INF Luke Hughes (shoulder) likely won't resume swinging this week, but could pick up a bat next week, according to general manager Terry Ryan.

• Zumaya is the only pitcher the Twins will keep a close eye on at the beginning of camp. Everyone else is considered to have a clean bill of health. "We have nobody held back," Gardenhire said. "There's really, up to this point, as far as pitchers go, there's not one pitcher that has an 'unable to perform' (label)."

Numbers game

0: The number of pitchers and catchers who failed to report on time.

18: The jersey number being worn by former Twins closer Eddie Guardado, who is one of the special instructors at camp. Guardado watched closely over Francisco Liriano's throwing session on Sunday.

Overheard

"Checka la casa!"
- Gardenhire -- during a "check home" drill -- to each of his Latin American pitchers.

On deck

Pitchers and catchers will workout together Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday before full-squad workouts begin.

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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