Tsuyoshi Nishioka likely to continue batting second
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On Thursday, prior to the Twins' match-up with the Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota, Gardenhire said middle infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka will likely continue batting second in the Twins' lineup.
So much for suspense.
"I like Nishi up there," Gardenhire said. "I feel really comfortable with him there. I like Alexi at the bottom. My preference is Alexi at the bottom. That turns the lineup really nice, with speed. You go 9-1-2, they can really fly. I like that.
"(Nishioka) is a proven hitter in Japan. I think he'll be (a good hitter) over here, but he's a great contact guy, can handle the bat, he can flip the ball around, you know he can bunt. He can do a lot of those things. His speed plays out really good. I'm sure hit and runs, all of those things."
And, perhaps most importantly, Nishioka had a .423 on-base percentage in the Japan Pacific League last year, and a career on-base percentage of .364.
"That's kind of why you bode well at the top of the lineup, to get somebody on for Mauer batting third and Morneau hopefully batting fourth, and you go on down the lineup," Gardenhire said. "You get all those high-percentage on-base guys up in front of them, and we should have some opportunities to drive in runs."
Defensively, Gardenhire has not yet made an official decision on where Nishioka and Casilla will play. Nishioka played second base during his first two spring training games, but he played shortstop on Thursday and will do so again on Friday.
"Just kind of ad lib, mix it up a little bit," Gardenhire said. "I want to see him, more Nishi than anything else. I've seen Alexi play plenty, but I haven't seen Nishi really play on that side of the infield. He looks pretty comfortable at second base. He looked really comfortable. Now I'll get his feel for how he looks out there. Your options are wide open down the road. If Alexi were to start scuffling or something, I want to be able to put him over and feel confident. That's why I'm putting him over there to take a look right now."
The fact that Nishioka and Casilla are somewhat interchangeable on defense also gives the Twins more flexibility for choosing backups and bench players.
"I haven't tried, say for instance, (Luke) Hughes out at shortstop or anything like that. But I know he could go to first, I know he could go to second, I know he could go to third. He could probably go to shortstop too in a pinch. Guys like that are going to have more value for us. (Trevor) Plouffe is doing the same thing."