Notes: Twins need a backup plan

Notes: Twins sorely need infield backups

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Twins shortstop Jason Bartlett has admitted that he was worn down at the end of the '06 season after starting 99 straight games. This year, the team made it a priority to find extra help so it wouldn't happen again.

But now, the Twins' goal is not to wear Bartlett out before the end of spring.

Injuries have already started to pile up, and the lack of extra middle infielders has become the Twins' main concern.

On Sunday, the Twins were limited to just two shortstops available for the game -- Bartlett and Minor Leaguer Tommy Watkins. Bartlett had been scheduled to get the day off, but he had to be used after Jeff Cirillo was scratched due to a sore neck.

"We're very limited on our options right now," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.

Having Cirillo even penciled in at shortstop speaks volumes about the team's dire need for help at the position. Over his 13-year career, Cirillo has played shortstop only five times. Sidelined with a sore neck for at least two to three days, Cirillo won't be an option in the near future.

Alejandro Machado, the team's Rule 5 Draft pick who was expected to be the front-runner for the backup shortstop role, has been sidelined with inflammation in his right shoulder. An MRI done on Machado's shoulder showed no structural damage, but it did reveal that the shoulder was extremely tight. Machado will undergo rehab on the shoulder while he remains listed as day-to-day.

Alexi Casilla was also out of the running Sunday after suffering a bruised tailbone during a collision with first baseman Garrett Jones during Saturday's game at Sarasota. Gardenhire said Casilla was feeling very sore but could possibly be available Monday.

The shortages continue: The injuries aren't limited to shortstop candidates. Second baseman Luis Castillo has been dealing with sore muscles in his back and hasn't played in the past two games. Gardenhire reported that Castillo felt better Sunday, but Castillo will rest for at least another day.

"We want to let him dictate to us when he can get back out there rather than force the issue," Gardenhire said.

The Twins are scheduled to take part in two games Monday, and the club had to recruit some Minor League campers to have enough players.

Shortstop Trevor Plouffe, the Twins' first-round draft pick in 2004, will join the team for at least a few days to help out with the lack of depth.

"We'll do the best we can with the middle infielders until we can get them all back," Gardenhire said.

Another assist: Johan Santana was a tad rusty in his first start of the spring on Sunday, as he walked three of the first four batters he faced.

But Santana was able to work his way out of some jams to only give up one run on three hits over two innings against the Red Sox. The ace has made a career out of being able to pitch well without his best stuff, and now he's trying to help Carlos Silva do the same thing.

Santana was on hand for Silva's bullpen session on Saturday, watching Silva work on some of his pitches.

"He definitely has to trust all those pitches," Santana said. "You cannot live in this game with just one pitch as a starter. He knows that, and now he's working on it.

"He's always willing to learn, and he's always listening. I definitely think he's going to improve this year. He needs to feel confident about himself, and I think he's up to it. I think he's going to be fine this year."

Infirmary report: Despite feeling some tightness in his knee while running Saturday, Lew Ford remains on the rehabilitation track. Ford said he was a little concerned after he had to halt his running due to the tightness, but the doctors told him that's not uncommon.

"Mentally, I feel a lot better knowing that it feels OK when I'm walking around," Ford said Sunday morning.

Contrary to some reports that Ford might be on his way to surgery, Gardenhire said the doctors are happy with Ford's progress. The outfielder is now scheduled to continue a light running program that will include some cutting motions, but it's still unclear just when he will be able to play in a game.

Torii Hunter took some swings on Sunday, the first time he had done so since getting hit in the head with a pitch last Friday night. Hunter is slated to start in center field in the team's "B" game against Boston on Monday. He said he is still feeling some effects from getting hit and was told that those often linger for about a week.

Ponson ready: Monday's "B" game against the Red Sox will mark Sidney Ponson's first stint on the mound this spring. Gardenhire said that after talking to the veteran pitcher, he could tell Ponson's not taking this opportunity to earn a spot in the rotation lightly.

"He's a little nervous, and that shows me he's thinking about it," Gardenhire said. "Now he's got to go out there and throw the ball."

Twins tidbits: Right-hander J.D. Durbin is scheduled to see his first game action on Wednesday against the Pirates. Durbin threw a bullpen session on Saturday and reported that everything went well. He will throw one more 12-minute bullpen session on Monday before he's scheduled to pitch. ... Dennys Reyes still has not arrived back at camp after leaving for Mexico this past Monday to be with his wife for the birth of their third child, a daughter named Claudia. He was expected to return Sunday but after the game, Gardenhire said that he had yet to see the reliever. ... Pitcher Jose Mijares is now back in camp after spending a few days back home in Venezuela following his brother's death. Mijares threw a light bullpen session on Sunday morning.

Coming up: The Twins head to St. Petersburg to take on the Devil Rays in a 12:05 p.m. CT start. Silva will take the mound for the second time this spring and he will be followed by right-hander Matt Garza.

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