Zulgad: In lost season, trio of newcomers could provide ray of hope
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MINNEAPOLIS - Ron Gardenhire submitted a lineup on Tuesday night that marked a first in the 51-year history of the Minnesota Twins franchise.
Research by the Elias Sports Bureau showed that never before had three Twins made their major league debut in the starting lineup in the same game. In fact, no team had paraded that many newcomers onto the field since 1986 when the San Diego Padres started four rookies in the same game.
It wasn't hard to identify the trio of newcomers.
Center field Joe Benson wore No. 63, first baseman Chris Parmelee had No. 64 and pitcher Liam Hendriks was given No. 62.
There are spring training games where that many guys sporting the numbers of offensive lineman don't find themselves in the lineup.
The Twins and the crowd that showed up at Target Field - the attendance was announced at 36,959 but appeared to be far less -- could have viewed this in one of two ways.
The first would have been to consider this an opportunity to see Benson, Parmelee and Hendriks make their debuts as a glimpse of what the future might hold. The second would have been to accept this as another sign of just how much has gone awry for the Twins in 2011.
The lineup that Gardenhire submitted for the 3-0 loss to the Chicago White Sox contained only two players that were in the batting order on April 1 when the Twins opened the season with a 13-3 loss in Toronto.
That lineup looked like this: Denard Span, CF; Tsuyoshi Nishioka, 2B; Joe Mauer, C; Justin Morneau, 1B; Delmon Young, LF; Michael Cuddyer, RF; Jason Kubel, RF; Danny Valencia, 3B; and Alexi Casilla, SS.
Span, Nishioka, Morneau, Cuddyer and Casilla all have various ailments. Young was traded to Detroit last month.
That left only Mauer and Valencia in a lineup Tuesday that included Benson, Trevor Plouffe, Parmelee, Luke Hughes, Rene Tosoni, Brian Dinkelman and Rene Rivera. The last seven on that list began the season at Triple-A Rochester or Double-A New Britain.
Valencia, who is second on the Twins with 15 home runs, went from eighth in the lineup at Toronto to batting cleanup on Tuesday. Mauer, meanwhile, was batting third, just as he had done against the Blue Jays, but he has missed 66 games this season.
It should have then come as no surprise that the Twins suffered their 84th loss, their most in one season since 2000, and were officially eliminated from the playoffs.
Hendriks, a righthander who was summoned from Rochester, gave up three runs, four hits, walked three and struck out four in seven innings. Benson was 0-for-3 with a walk batting leadoff and Parmelee went 2-for-4.
"It is what it is," Gardenhire said of having so many young faces in the lineup. "These guys come to the ballpark, they all do their work. They have all year. It hasn't been a good year, we've struggled, we all know that. Yeah, it's fun to see the kids come up here but I'd like to see our veterans back out on the field, too.
"It's always fun when I have those big guys out there on the field running around swinging the bats. They bring a lot of entertainment to our fans. But right now it's not possible, there are some injuries, so we'll put the kids out there and see what happens. It's good experience for them."
Gardenhire has gone to great lengths to defend the various and creative lineups he has been forced to use this season, making the point that these players are in the big leagues and thus it's unfair to liken them to a minor-league batting order.
Through much of the 1990s the team Gardenhire put on the field Tuesday wouldn't have drawn any type of reaction. The Twins went didn't have a winning season from 1993 to 2000 and those that showed up at the Metrodome knew what they were getting when they bought a ticket.
But that was before the Twins went on a stretch of nine winning seasons in a 10-year span in which playoff appearances became the norm and expectations were raised to a point that September call-ups usually were only there to supplement a competitive lineup.
It also was before the Twins moved into Target Field and the payroll shot up to approximately $115 million.
With Kubel and Cuddyer possibly leaving as free agents after this season and Morneau continuing to deal with concussion issues, the Twins' hope now is that the likes of Benson, Parmelee and Hendriks will prove sooner rather than later that they belong at Target Field on a regular basis.
If that doesn't happen, one down season could turn into something much worse for this franchise.