FORT MYERS, Fla. -- A mid-career move wasn't what the thirty-something-year-old Jeff Cirillo was looking for late last season when he was with the Milwaukee Brewers. But the Brewers needed somebody to spell their starting shortstop, J.J. Hardy, and, for some reason, Cirillo's name came up. Coach Robin Yount was the man who broached the subject. Yount told Cirillo that he was going to start the next day at shortstop.
"I said, 'You're kidding, right?'" Cirillo recalled. "He was like, 'No, you're playing shortstop tomorrow.' I'm like, 'OK.' "And he said, 'If we win, you're playing there the next game, too.'" Cirillo ended up playing shortstop in back-to-back games, and the Brewers used him at shortstop one other time last season. "I was fine the first game there," Cirillo said. "But I was definitely thinking on both sides of the ball. The whole game I was thinking about plays at shortstop. I was freakin' exhausted after the game." His exhaustion might increase tenfold now that he's wearing a Twins uniform, because manager Ron Gardenhire is seriously looking at using Cirillo at shortstop this season. No, Cirillo isn't going to be taking Jason Bartlett's starting job at short. Gardenhire hasn't needed to make a move that earth-shaking. He's simply trying to find somebody who can spell Bartlett here and there. The injury to Alejandro Machado (torn labrum) has forced Gardenhire to explore his options, so he's had Cirillo and Luis Rodriguez field groundballs at short. At some point in the days ahead, the now 37-year-old Cirillo should soon be finding his way into one or two Grapefruit League games at the position. "He's my manager," he said of Gardenhire. "If he asks me to play shortstop, I'd go play shortstop."
Anything for Gardenhire, right? Well, almost anything."Now, if he asked me to go play catcher," Cirillo said, "I'm gonna have a problem. Anywhere but catcher, I'll go play." So he sounds as if he's comfortable with the idea of moving, now and then, from third to short. He knows he's simply serving as a fill-in, nothing more. Cirillo doesn't expect to convince anybody, not even himself, that he's built from the same Gold Glove mold as Ozzie Smith and Omar Vizquel. "The more you get out there, the repetition of it and then getting a game under your belt at shortstop, it works better," Cirillo said. "I'll make the plays [hit] at me, you know. "I probably won't look like a standard big-league shortstop, but I'll catch it and throw it." Gardenhire, a manager who puts a premium on his players making plays, might well settle for that from Cirillo until somebody better comes his way.
Justice B. Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.