Bonser has recently put himself at the forefront of the race. After a rough first start, in which he gave up three runs on five hits in an inning of work, Bonser has rebounded to deliver two scoreless outings in a row. The second came Monday when the right-hander threw four innings and was nearly perfect, as he didn't give up a hit or a walk, with the lone baserunner reaching on a fielding error by Michael Cuddyer.
After Bonser started Game 2 of the playoffs for the Twins last season, there were many pundits who had labeled the right-hander as a guarantee to be in the rotation. But that's not how Bonser looked at the situation.
"I did what I did last year, but this year is a new year," Bonser said. "And like they said, everything starts here [in spring]."
Even if Bonser is starting to emerge as the likely candidate for the fourth spot, the fifth and final opening now has at least three pitchers vying to take possession of it. At first, it appeared that Sidney Ponson had the edge when Gardenhire said the spot was Ponson's to lose.
But with Ponson struggling in his first Grapefruit League outing of the year, giving up four runs on seven hits over two innings against the Dodgers, it has created an opening for the Twins' young arms to be right in the midst of the competition.
Garza got off to a strong start this spring in his debut against Boston, but he was hampered by some neck pain that kept him off the mound for a few days. Despite being a little over-amped in his first outing back, Garza showed that his stuff was there. And Perkins opened up quite a few eyes when he delivered three scoreless innings on Sunday against a loaded Blue Jays lineup.
There has been a lot of concern voiced outside the organization about the lack of experience for some of these young arms, but the Twins don't see any reason to hesitate using these young starters right away.
"Some of our young pitchers have been in the competition before," Gardenhire said. "They got called up last year and guys like Garza pitched in Yankee Stadium. I think they understand the pressures and the competition. We just want them to relax as much as they can."
The race likely won't really be determined until the pitchers can get on the mound for longer outings, and that should be helped once Minor League games get under way and the starts can be expanded more. Until then, it's just going to be who can show the club that they are ready to grab the spot.
"I said from that start that it's going to be a dog fight," Garza said of the starting race on Monday. "We just have to keep going out and do our jobs and things are going to fall into place."
Bye, bye pain:
Garza's first outing on the mound since his neck pain was alleviated included a mix of good and bad on Monday.
The pitcher missed with a few pitches and walked the first two batters he faced in his second inning of work, but overall Gardenhire and the staff raved about Garza's velocity returning and felt that it was a good first step back. Garza echoed their feelings in his assessment.
"It was the first time I was able to feel normal on the mound," Garza said. "I was able to turn it up a lot today. I think I turned it up a little too much and got a little out of control a little. But I was able to regroup and figure out the problem, so that was a good sign."
Over and over again:
First baseman/DH Ken Harvey returned to the Twins lineup Monday for the first time since he pulled a chest muscle in the first Grapefruit League game on Feb. 28.
But it didn't take long for Harvey to re-aggravate the injury that he suffered during his very first swing in a spring game. Harvey had two at-bats against the Marlins and even recorded a two-run double in the second inning. Still, he felt something in the muscle.
Gardenhire said Harvey is going to try to play through the injury, since there's not much that can be done for it.
"It's been beyond frustrating," Harvey said of his injury troubles. "I never really had any injuries up until last year, and then it's been one after another. It's tough. It just humbles you. But you have to just keep on battling through it."
The Twins made their first set of cuts this spring on Monday morning. The club optioned left-hander Ricky Barrett to Triple-A Rochester, right-hander Oswaldo Sosa to Double-A left-hander Alexander Smit to Class A Fort Myers.
The Twins also reassigned pitcher Brad Voyles, catchers Jeff Christy, Korey Feiner and Jose Morales and infielder Gil Velazquez to Minor League camp. The team now has 51 players in camp.
Gardenhire said that more cuts likely will be coming as he wants to reduce the number of pitchers in camp, with fewer opportunities now available to see time on the mound.
"They need to pitch and build arm strength up," Gardenhire said. "With all these starters we're looking at, we don't have enough innings right now."
Lew Ford's surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee was completed successfully Monday morning. Ford is expected to be back with the Twins on Tuesday and Gardenhire reiterated that the club feels Ford's return time will be close to four weeks rather than six.
The Twins will host the defending World Series champion Cardinals at Hammond Stadium in a 12:05 p.m. CT contest Tuesday. Santana will get the start as he faces off against another lefty, Randy Keisler.