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Updated: October 17th, 2011 4:19pm
Training staff to remain intact; Twins again looking to improve at SS

Training staff to remain intact; Twins again looking to improve at SS

by Phil Mackey
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After a season that saw 15 different Minnesota Twins players miss at least one month due to injury, it was reasonable to ask whether the team needs to look at how it can do a better job keeping guys healthy.

On Monday, in an interview with 1500 ESPN, general manager Bill Smith acknowledged that staying healthy is a top priority, but he confirmed that the Twins' major league training staff will remain intact heading into 2012.

"One of our challenges was a lot of (the injuries) were collision injuries," Smith said. "There's nothing, from a training standpoint, that you can do to prevent the injury to (Tsuyoshi) Nishioka, Delmon Young crashing into the left-field wall, (Jason) Kubel crashing into the right-field wall, (Michael) Cuddyer getting hit in the wrist by a pitch. Those aren't stretching and training and injuries that you can prevent that way. ...

"(Jason) Repko got hit in the head, we've had a couple of concussions, we've kind of run the gamut on all of this. We're really working to get our players back healthy to start the season. I know I think (manager Ron Gardenhire) is going to have a more active spring training program."

Smith pointed out that Alexi Casilla's hamstring injury, which sidelined him for the final two months of the season, was one of the only significant non-impact injuries.

Kevin Slowey spent time on the disabled list with shoulder bursitis early in the year, and starting pitchers Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano and Nick Blackburn all missed chunks of time with shoulder, elbow and/or forearm discomfort. Young, Glen Perkins and Jim Thome each dealt with oblique issues.

Other notes from GM Smith

• The Twins wrapped up organizational meetings in Fort Myers last week, where front office members and other key people discussed projected free-agent targets, trade targets and offseason blue-print plans. Smith said he will go over those discussions with Gardenhire next week.

• Asked if the Twins need to look outside the organization for help at shortstop, Smith said, "I think we'll be looking."

"By all means, we've got to have good defense, and we did not have it last year. Part of it was, with all the injuries, we had a lot of people playing up here that should have been playing in Rochester. And the second part of it is we didn't play that well. So we're looking for solid leadership and solid defense at shortstop, and whether that comes from one of those players (Trevor Plouffe and Tsuyoshi Nishioka) or from somebody outside the organization, we're certainly going to be looking to upgrade that."

Twins' shortstops combined to rate 27 runs below average last season according to scouts at Baseball Info Solutions -- a rating that can be mostly attributed to the poor range and throwing of Plouffe and Nishioka.

• Regarding the offseason program of Joe Mauer, who missed approximately three months due to bilateral leg weakness, pneumonia and other ailments, Smith said, "I think Joe acknowledged that he's got to change the way he's prepared in the past, and we're certainly on board with that."

Mauer will work with Twins' strength and conditioning coordinator Perry Castellano, who lives in Fort Myers. "They've got a program pretty well drawn up that everybody's bought into," Smith said.

• If Mauer is unable to return to every-day catching duties -- and there's no guarantee he'll be able to handle 130 games behind the plate -- Smith acknowledged that the team needs a better backup option. "We definitely have to have some more offense," he said. "Drew Butera is a wonderful backup catcher and Rene Rivera did a nice job, but not when they have to play 100 games. We've got to have more offense out of that backup position. ... We are looking to add to that, to supplement that."

Butera hit .167/.210/.239 in 254 plate appearances. Rivera hit .144/.211/.202 in 114 trips.

• Smith said Liriano will likely pitch some in winter ball in the Dominican League at the end of December. "Getting that structure and getting ready for spring training, using the winter ball as a spring board to spring training, this is a huge year for him personally. We want it to be a huge year for him as far as his team goes, but he's heading into his free agency year. ... He needs to come into camp in great shape and ready to go and pitch more like he did in 2010 than 2011."

Liriano pitched in winter ball prior to his post-Tommy John breakout in 2010. He did not pitch in winter ball last year and instead strained his shoulder by throwing too many bullpen sessions leading up to spring training. His 2011 season never got on track after that.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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