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Updated: April 2nd, 2012 8:33pm
Zulgad's Roundup: Twins GM Terry Ryan proving he is firm but also fair

Zulgad's Roundup: Twins GM Terry Ryan proving he is firm but also fair

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

There has been plenty of discussion this spring about the difference in how things are being run by the Minnesota Twins now that Terry Ryan has returned as the team's general manager.

Ryan's no-nonsense approach set the tone for a team that seemed to have far too much nonsense surrounding it during a 99-loss season in 2011.

But while Ryan comes off as being firm in his decision-making, he also deserves credit for his ability to look at every situation individually and go from there.

A perfect example of this have been the differences in the approaches taken with Scott Baker and Justin Morneau.

Baker will be placed on the disabled list, retroactive to March 27, to open the season after being slowed by tendinitis in his pitching (right) elbow. It's the latest injury issue for Baker, who ideally would be the Twins' third starter.

"It's pretty much up to him right now," Ryan said when asked about Baker's health on the "Judd & Phunn" show Monday on 1500 ESPN. "His comfort level, his mental approach and those types of things. There's not much pain if any now, it's just a matter of him cutting the ball loose and having confidence in his ability to cut it loose.

"I think we'll see that closer to the month of April here than beyond. I didn't see anything where anything surprised me or I wasn't disappointed over there at Boston the other day (when Baker threw four innings against the Red Sox Triple-A affiliate), but he's still throwing the ball somewhere in the 85-to-88 miles an hour range and he's got more in there than that and that's what we need to see."

Baker had been in line to start the Twins' home opener on April 9 against the Los Angeles Angels, but that isn't going to happen. The Twins are going to begin the season with a four-man rotation that includes righthander Liam Hendriks starting in Baker's spot.

And that isn't going to change until Baker proves that he is able to get his velocity back to its normal level so that he can cut it loose. Even then, Ryan has made it clear that if Hendriks pitches well he won't be moved out of the rotation.

"He's had an excellent spring," Ryan said of Hendriks, who is 3-0 with a 1.80 earned-run average. "He's getting the ball and he's done something with the opportunities, which is exactly what we wanted. He has the ability to change speeds, he's got different gears, he can take something off his fastball. He can locate, he doesn't ever walk anybody. Those are pretty good attributes for a starting pitcher.

"He's a strong kid with confidence, so it looks like he's probably going to slot in somewhere around that third-start area. I'm anxious to see how he responds. He was our pitcher of the year in the minor leagues last year and did a pretty good job when we did bring him to Minnesota, so he's deserved and earned this spot."

What's interesting about Ryan's comments regarding Baker is the fact that it's clear this is a case where he's willing to challenge the player. Certainly, Ryan wouldn't come out and say, "there's not much pain, if any," in Baker's arm if he was concerned about the starter's elbow or thought there might be something really wrong.

So how frustrating is it for Ryan to find himself in this position?

"It's not so much frustration," he said. "It's understanding. These athletes and players and pitchers and so forth, each one is a little different and each one progresses at a certain time frame and you can't really speed it up. You just have to make sure that the guy is comfortable.

"And Scott has had this before, it's not like this is a first time occurrence. So we'll deal with it and we'll make sure that he's right. There's no sense in rushing through something and having a setback. I think we're doing the right thing."

While Ryan does his best to be patient with Baker, he also deals with the situation involving Morneau, who is going to open the season as the Twins' designated hitter and could remain in that role for a significant amount of time.

This isn't Ryan's first choice.

It's pretty clear Ryan would like to see Morneau play first base on an everyday basis. In fact, Ryan called Morneau a "very gifted first baseman, defensively."

But Morneau, who is coming off a variety of health issues from 2011, and, most importantly, was shut down for the second consecutive season because of concussion symptoms, elected to tell the Twins he would prefer to DH. He hasn't played first base since March 13.

In some ways, this is reminiscent of last season when far too many players seemed to be attempting to call the shots. But in this case, Ryan is going to defer to Morneau and that's the wise move.

Morneau is more comfortable not playing in the field right now - doctors have told him it will help him avoid concussion symptoms, if he doesn't get worn down - and Ryan is going to listen to that. Unlike with Baker, this is not an injury where a doctor can give Ryan a good idea of Morneau's condition.

We don't know enough about concussions at this point.

"Everybody can weigh in with an opinion on the situation, but it's the player ultimately that's going to have to give us direction," Ryan said. "We have done that. We've been pretty good about that and he's been good in return. He's worked hard and we don't want to mess with any success we've had. It's working right now, and that's the way we're going to go."

Indeed, Morneau has swung the bat very well of late after a few rocky weeks in spring training. He extended his hitting streak to eight games on Monday, going 1-for-3 in the Twins' 6-6 tie with the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte, Fla.

Morneau appeared in only 69 games last season and considering his six-year, $80 million contract runs through next season, the Twins would rather have only his bat in the lineup than not have him playing at all.

"We are more concerned to make sure we get at-bats out of him than anything else, and I think we've accomplished that," Ryan said. "Now it's just up to him and how he feels about his game and how much he wants to push it.

"But he's swung the bat well here in the last 10 games or so, and (Chris) Parmelee certainly has risen to the occasion. He's been our best performer. We can go this way. If we deem it necessary where we put Morneau over at first and he's agreeable, then we can do that. But this roster shapes up decent where we can put Morneau at DH."

Parmelee, who will open the season at first base but also can play the outfield, has hit .277 for the Twins this spring with five home runs and 13 RBI. Parmelee hit four home runs in 76 at-bats last season with the Twins after being called up from Class AA New Britain.

Decision on Marquis nears

Ryan said he expected veteran pitcher Jason Marquis to return to the Twins either Monday night or Tuesday morning after Marquis spent the past two weeks in New York to be with his 7-year-old daughter, who was injured in a serious bicycle accident.

"We should get him in camp here and lay eyes on him and see where he's at," said Ryan, whose team will open the season on Friday in Baltimore. "From all indications, he stayed in good shape and he's been throwing. Unfortunately, it's not the same so we'll have to get him into a game here probably on the minor league side."

Ryan has a plan but first he needs to run it by the 33-year-old Marquis, who gave up 12 earned runs on 19 hits in 12.2 innings this spring. He was 1-1 with a 8.53 ERA.

Odds are good the Twins want to put Marquis on Major League Baseball's bereavement list, which enables players to miss between three and seven days because of a family medical emergency.

"There's no doubt I need (Marquis') cooperation," Ryan said when asked about the specifics of what he wants to do. "There are a couple of different lists that Major League Baseball has for these types of situations, so I'm going to have to wait to talk to Jason before we move too far forward."

Marquis, signed in the offseason to a one-year, $3-million deal, is expected to end up as Twins' fifth starter. However, for the short term they are going with that four-man rotation that also won't include Baker.

There also is a chance that if Hendriks pitches well, he could bump Marquis from the rotation.

Dozier impresses

Shortstop Brian Dozier was one of the Twins' final cuts this spring after he hit .277 with three home runs and nine RBI.

Dozier, 24, was named the Twins' minor league player of the year last season after spending time with Class A Fort Myers and Class AA New Britain. He will begin this season with Class AAA Rochester, as veteran Jamey Carroll opens as the Twins' regular shortstop.

"He played well, and you want to really take that into consideration that he didn't look overmatched, which is good," Ryan said. "But we also know that sometimes it's warranted where a guy should probably get Triple-A at-bats.

"Dozier played at shortstop behind Carroll. Carroll's been good here and with that being the case, Dozier needs to play every day and he's a phone call away if things start to crack a little bit here. I've seen a lot of Dozier in my life and there's a lot to like and also there's some things he needs to work on. Going to work with Gene Glynn and (Tom) Brunansky at Triple-A is not a bad thing."

Glynn is the new manager of the Red Wings and Brunansky, who played on the Twins' 1987 World Series championship team, is the hitting coach.

Asked what Dozier could work on, Ryan said: "Repetition, strike-zone management. He gets out of his own a tick, he likes to chase a little bit and I think Tom Brunansky will be good for him.

"Obviously, Gene Glynn is an infield instructor. There are a few things with his game that can be fine-tuned, he can get better. I like the attitude that he took. He didn't feel sorry for himself yesterday when we told him (he was going to the minors). He took it as a challenge and he'll go down and he'll play and he'll be ready if we need him."

Ryan said Dozier has confidence in his game but is not "cocky or arrogant."

"He's a good human being on top of it, he's a good teammate and it won't hurt him to start at Triple-A and see what he does there and play a little bit up there in that cold weather," Ryan added. "There's nothing wrong with some of these things. It's not bad sometimes when you go to the minor leagues. Sometimes it's a good thing."

Still the interim GM

Ryan returned to the general manager's chair in November after he had stepped down from that job in 2007 and was replaced by Bill Smith.

Ryan, upon taking the job again and replacing Smith, did so with an interim label attached. It was Ryan who requested that be done and it will be several months before a decision is made on whether that tag will be removed.

So how did Ryan enjoy his first spring back in the full-time role after spending the previous four seasons as a special assistant to Smith?

"This was a good spring," Ryan said. "We had a tremendous amount of bodies here, which was not the ideal, but a few of them responded and we've got some depth at Triple-A. The weather was fantastic here, we had good atmosphere, we got organized. Spring training can be tough but this was a good camp, we got a lot accomplished and I think we've got some optimism leaving this place that we certainly have a chance."

It was a very different camp from a year ago when the Twins had numerous injury problems, setting up what turned into one of the most disappointing years in franchise history.

"I think right now our health is in good shape," Ryan said. "We're going to have some new faces on this ballclub, which is not all that bad. We've got a few veterans here that we're going to add to the mix and also a couple of these younger guys that have had decent springs.

"It's a little different roster, but for the most part it kind of fell into place for us. ... We're anxious to get up to Baltimore to see how this thing plays out. Right now, we're in pretty good shape."

Changes in store?

Nike, which has replaced Reebok as the new manufacturer of NFL uniforms, will unveil its uniform designs on Tuesday at a media event in New York.

Nike hasn't put out any information on potential alterations, but it will be interesting to see if there are any tweaks in the Vikings uniforms.

It always has been the opinion here that the throwback uniforms the Vikings wear once or twice a year from the 1970s are far superior to their current unis.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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