Notes: Ponson still making his case

Notes: Ponson still making his case

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Sidney Ponson had choices. As a free agent, he'd narrowed his choices to the Twins and the Cubs.

The 30-year-old Ponson said he signed with the Twins because they had a greater need for a veteran pitcher than the Cubs did.

"This was the best chance to make a team," he said. "If I went to Chicago, they had four starters already, and they have another three or four fighting for one spot. So I decided I had a better chance to make a team here. I heard a lot of things about the team. I'm happy to choose this team."

The Twins seem happy he did, too. They went into the offseason looking for just what Ponson had in abundance: experience. They'd lost plenty of that when veteran right-hander Brad Radke decided to retire.

Yet the Twins didn't know for certain what they had in Ponson, who battled arm problems last season. He's shown the Twins enough, thus far, for manager Ron Gardenhire to take a serious look at him for a starting job.

With his outing Wednesday, allowing three runs on seven hits in four innings of a 5-3 win over the Reds, Ponson didn't appear to have hurt his chances of winning that rotation spot.

"We liked the way he threw the ball today," Gardenhire said. "His ball was really sinking. He trusts that sinker like that and throws to contact -- he's doing OK."

Still, Gardenhire didn't anoint Ponson with one of the rotation spots. That might come soon enough, though.

"It I stay here, I stay here; I don't, I leave," Ponson said. "I'm all right; I'm here until I'm not wanted."

Going, going and ... Alexi Casilla has impressed.

Gardenhire said as much. He'd love to keep Casilla, a middle infielder, with the Twins when camp breaks later this month, but Gardenhire won't do so. He plans to ship "the little guy," as he calls the 22-year-old Casilla, back to the Minor Leagues.

"I'd really like to see him play and get a lot of at-bats early in the season," Gardenhire said. "I don't want to use him off the bench here. He needs to play, not come off the bench in the big leagues right now."

That's the reason Gardenhire, knowing that Alejandro Machado might be down for a while, has explored other options for people to backup Jason Bartlett at shortstop.

It doesn't do Casilla's development much good, Gardenhire said, to have him sit behind Bartlett or anybody else in the bigs.

But if something were to happen to Bartlett and Gardenhire needed a middle infielder for an extended period, Casilla would be the choice.

"He needs to start right now, not sit here and watch," Gardenhire said of Casilla, who started at shortstop in the Grapefruit League game here Wednesday.

Central casting: Take Gardenhire at his word, because defending his AL Central title should surely be more difficult than winning it proved to be. From top to bottom, the Central division looks as if it has strong teams everywhere.

The Tigers are improved, and so are the White Sox and the Indians, according to Gardenhire. And the Royals? He said they'll definitely be better, too.

"It's no doubt they've made improvements," he said. "They were getting better last year. As the year wound down, they were playing better baseball with a lot of enthusiasm."

Gardenhire liked the team's young talent, and he also thought the return of right-hander Zack Greinke, who wrestled with personal issues, would be a plus for manager Buddy Bell, who's trying to build his ballclub around strong, young arms.

"They're gonna be better -- no doubt about it," Gardenhire said of the Royals. "Along with everybody else."

And the question is: The Twins have had four different players end up with franchise-best four extra-base hits in one game. Who was the last player to do so? (See answer below)

Did you know: The Twins have never had a player hit four homers in a game, but the club has had hitters hit three homers in a game. The first to do it was Bob Allison in 1963, and Harmon Killebrew duplicated Allison's feat the same season. It was 10 years before it was done again. Tony Oliva hit three homers against the Kansas City Athletics on July 3, 1973.

Twins notes: The Twins added a Minor Leaguer to their roster for Wednesday's game against the Reds. Infielder Matt Moses, the team's No. 1 pick in the 2003 draft, wore No. 93. ... Casilla (22) is the youngest player still in Major League camp, and Cirillo (37) is the oldest. ... The Twins reassigned left-hander Randy Choate to Minor League camp. The move cut their Spring Training roster to 41, a total that includes eight non-roster players.

Ouch: Hitting coach Joe Vavra left Wednesday's game in the bottom of the first inning when Luis Castillo sent a metal doughnut flying off his bat and into the Twins dugout. The doughnut clipped Vavra's ear.

"That was a scary moment," Gardenhire said.

Vavra left the team and went to a nearby hospital. He needed stitches to close a deep cut. He later returned with his head wrapped in bandages.

"It's OK, boys," Vavra said as he stood in the doorway of Gardenhire's office. "Everything's all right. I'll be back at it tomorrow."

The answer is: On July 12, 2001, Corey Koskie had four extra-base hits in a game against the Milwaukee Brewers.

Quotable: "I feel my hamstring every day. Every day I get out of bed I feel my hamstring. ... I'm serious -- every day" -- Gardenhire, when asked if he felt hamstrung in his search for a viable backup for shortstop Bartlett

Up next: The Twins travel to St. Petersburg on Thursday to play the Tampa Devil Rays in a 6:05 p.m. CT game. Right-hander Boof Bonser will start for the Twins, and Bonser will face left-hander Casey Fossum.

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