Notes: Twins place hopes in veterans

Notes: Twins place hopes in veteran arms

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Eyes are on starting pitching at Spring Training here, and after losing veteran Brad Radke to retirement and rookie sensation Francisco Liriano to Tommy John elbow surgery, the Twins know they must find some capable arms if they hope to repeat as American League Central champions.

With that in mind, manager Ron Gardenhire might want to trot out the Marines' slogan, because he will surely need a few good men.

He has brought veterans like Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz to camp, but Gardenhire also has young arms like right-hander Kevin Slowey and left-hander Glen Perkins to put under the microscope.

Its lens focused sharply Sunday morning on Slowey, who's one of the organization's top prospects.

His pitching arsenal has drawn comparisons to Radke's. Like Radke, Slowey is a strike-thrower, and he threw plenty of strikes in his pitching session against Lew Ford, Jason Kubel and Garrett Jones.

For his effort, the 22-year-old Slowey got praise from Gardenhire, who refused to discount Slowey's chances of making the 25-man roster for Opening Day.

"I'm not saying 'no' about anybody," Gardenhire said. "He's got a shot just like everybody else. Our hopes are that guys like Ponson and guys like that -- veterans who eat up innings -- are gonna be good.

"That's our hopes."

Hope in baseball can be a dangerous thing to bank a season on, which is why Gardenhire is not dismissing the thought of filling out his rotation with young arms. He admitted, however, that he'd prefer to see Slowey spend more time at Triple-A Rochester, but Gardenhire is looking for the best man -- or a few of 'em.

"Whoever we think can do the best jobs in those roles right now, that's who we'll run out there," Gardenhire said. "If [Slowey's] one of 'em, I wouldn't be afraid at all. I'm not afraid to put a young man out there and give him the ball."

And the question is ... With 1,540 RBIs, Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew ranks No. 1 on the Twins' all-time list. What player is No. 2 on the Twins' list? [See answer below]

Did you know: The Twins spent a total of one day alone at the top of the AL Central last season, and that came on the last day of the 2006 season.

A pain in the neck: Right-hander Matt Garza went down Saturday with a neck injury, and infielder Jeff Cirillo left workouts Sunday with the same injury, which caused Gardenhire to wonder aloud if neck injuries might be the flavor of the month for his ballclub.

"They call it a muscle strain," he said of Cirillo's injury. "They call everything a muscle strain. Serious? I guess you'll look at it tomorrow."

He said Garza, a strong candidate for one of the starting spots, went out Sunday and did all of his work, so apparently his muscle strain isn't anything to worry about.

A close call: Jason Tyner drove Boof Bonser's changeup right back at Bonser on Sunday. Though he was pitching behind a screen, Bonser barely avoided having the seams of the Spalding baseball tattooed on his torso.

In the give-and-take of Spring Training, his teammates who saw it were giving Bonser a heavy dose of teasing. Gardenhire threw in his two cents' worth, as well.

"Boof," he said, "that ball wouldn't have been close to most guys. But there's a lot of Boof behind that screen."

Nice start: Ponson gave his first day of throwing to hitters a passing grade.

"I feel good," he said after icing down his arm. "My arm feels good, so that's always good."

As a veteran, the 30-year-old Ponson knows what he should try to accomplish in Spring Training, so he doesn't, as he put it, beat himself up if he throws a few balls in the dirt.

"It's not the same as when you go out there in the game," he said. "I'm just working on stuff -- getting repetitions so you can get used to throwing down and away to lefties and stuff like that."

Ponson said he's been throwing since January, and he said his arm is almost where he wants it to be at this point of camp.

"The question's gonna be, 'How's it gonna feel tomorrow?'" he said. "I know it's gonna be sore. How sore? I don't know yet. So let's wait and see."

The answer is ... With 1,086, Kent Hrbek is second to Killebrew in RBIs. Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett is No. 3 on the list with 1,085.

Early risers: The Twins have a long day ahead of them Monday. Players have to report to Spring Training camp at 7 a.m. ET for physicals, and they will have pictures taken afterward.

Quotable: "Everybody's got something to prove. He needs to come back out and do the same thing. He's definitely our shortstop. He played the heck out of it last year." -- Gardenhire, on Jason Bartlett's emergence as an everyday ballplayer

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