Spring battles will try to solve puzzle

Spring battles will try to solve Twins' puzzle

The Twins have grown used to the first day of Spring Training being just business as usual.

As a team accustomed to a settled pitching staff and plenty of talent behind the plate, the Twins' first week of camp has often drawn little attention. Instead most of the anticipation came once the position players reported to see just who might bring the offense that had been lacking in previous seasons.

But when pitchers and catchers report at the Lee County Sports Complex on Sunday, all attention will turn to the club's rotation, as almost all of the spots in it are up for grabs. Without Brad Radke and Francisco Liriano to help anchor the staff behind two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana, there will be plenty of competition for the rotation to fill the voids.

"That's a rarity for us in the last number of years," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "Usually, it's other things than starting pitching. But we're not an organization that doesn't have concerns every time that we go to Spring Training. You have to have Spring Training for a reason and sometimes you have to work things out."

The intrigue on that first day will be to welcome the new faces, like Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson, as well as some of the young arms now battling for their chance at a spot in the rotation. But there are plenty of questions surrounding many of the team's options. Even one of the lone returnees, Carlos Silva, has some questions to answer. After struggling to an 11-15 record with a 5.94 ERA in '06, the hope is that Silva can return to the form he had just the season before.

Boof Bonser is considered a virtual lock for the rotation after earning the No. 2 starting spot in the playoffs, but other young pitchers like left-hander Glen Perkins and right-hander Matt Garza provide the team with some talented options. Scott Baker and top pitching prospect Kevin Slowey also will be in the mix.

For some it will be a first opportunity to catch the coaches' attention, while for others it will be a final chance to prove themselves ready for the big leagues. Such is the case with right-hander J.D. Durbin, who finds himself out of options heading into this year's camp.

The Twins may have spots to fill in the rotation, but there is no such concern in the bullpen. All-Star closer Joe Nathan will once again anchor the group that returns Dennys Reyes, Juan Rincon, Jesse Crain, Pat Neshek and Matt Guerrier. There is an opening for another lefty to back up Reyes, with a few veterans in camp as non-roster invitees, like Randy Choate and Mike Venafro, battling for the spot.

The Twins are also set in their catching situation as they return one of the most formidable duos behind the plate in Joe Mauer and Mike Redmond. Mauer enters his fourth season in the Majors having just signed a four-year deal and will look to repeat his offensive success of '06. But it's not offense that's a concern, as Mauer and Redmond will have their work cut out for them trying to figure out a relatively new pitching staff.

The excitement to get started for the Twins certainly is helped by the fact that the disappointing end of getting swept by the A's in the playoffs still lingers with many of the players and coaches.

"Everyone is kind of on a mission," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Everyone pretty much understands what we went through last year. We'll have a few new people who didn't have a chance to experience it with us, but most of the guys in the clubhouse did. We know how to get there; now, it's just about getting it done when you get there."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.