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Updated: May 28th, 2010 5:59pm
Pregame notes: Twins' starting infield back in tact with Punto returning

Pregame notes: Twins' starting infield back in tact with Punto returning

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- After many weeks of musical chairs, the Twins finally have their starting infield back in tact for tonight's game against the Texas Rangers.

Nick Punto, who received a cortisone shot in his finger last weekend, will start at third base, playing alongside shortstop J.J. Hardy for the first time since May 4.

"He got through early (batting practice)," manager Ron Gardenhire said, "we just had to wait and see how he swung in early BP and see if everything went OK, and everything went good."

Defensively, the Twins have committed the fewest errors in baseball (10), with the Giants a distant second (19), and they rank eighth in total Ultimate Zone Rating.

And those numbers are even more impressive considering the Twins have played nearly half the season so far without either Punto, Hardy, or both.

NOTES

* Texas will send RHP Colby Lewis (4-2, 3.45) to the mound to face RHP Kevin Slowey (5-3, 4.53).

Lewis spent two seasons in Japan after bouncing around between Texas, Detroit, and Oakland from 2002-2007. His career prior to Japan was mired in mediocrity and control problems, but he seems to have figured things out for the most part, racking up 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings to go along with a 3.45 ERA.

Slowey's problem all season has been his inability to go deep into ballgames. In nine starts, Slowey has pitched into the sixth inning only once.

"We'd like to see him pitch to more contact, get hitters to swing earlier in the count, and get some quicker innings and quicker outs, instead of having 15-20 pitch innings every inning," Gardenhire said. "That's just about throwing quality pitches down in the zone, and pitching to contact earlier in the game."

The problem with Slowey, a notorious fly ball pitcher, pitching to more contact is that he's susceptible to allowing more home runs -- something that has been a problem for the young right-hander throughout his career.

* Gardenhire was also asked to revisit his comments about Joe Girardi's stall tactics earlier this week, when the Yankees manager told Andy Pettitte to warm up at the beginning of the ninth inning on Wednesday night, only to pull him for Mariano Rivera before the left-hander faced a batter.

"It's all within the rules," Gardenhire said.

"It's just, you talk about the pace of the game. My only issues are everything we do is for pace of the game. Everything we do. And then he goes out there with his starting pitcher, which is completely within the rules as they say, and (Pettitte) lobs five balls. He bounced like three of them. The catcher takes his mask off, is rubbing his eyes, looking in the dugout. They're all laughing about it. So we all know this is just a joke, just to get (Rivera) ready, right? There's no intent of having that guy pitch or anything.

"If we're going to keep talking about pace of the game, then control situations like that. That's all I'm saying. It's perfectly within the rules, and he did the right thing. That's what he had to do. He had to get Mariano in the game.

"There would have been a major blowup if Joe West were here. I'll tell you that right now. Because he's the one that's brought that to my attention, told me, 'don't ever do that. I don't want to ever see you doing that, kid.'"

So would Gardenhire ever do it?

"I almost did it last night, when they hit a three-run homer and (Nick Blackburn) was out of gas. He said he'd go back out, but he's a little tired. Well, we got (Jose) Mijares up after the home run with two outs, but Mijares had already been throwing. If Mijares wasn't ready, I could have sent (Blackburn) out, and then warmed up, and then call in Mijares before the hitter. I could have done it. I wouldn't, but I could have done it.

"Never say never, but like I said, I just get irritated at baseball. Not at Joe Girardi, not at that, but at baseball, for pace of the game stuff."

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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