Winter Meetings interview with Ron Gardenhire

Winter Meetings interview with Ron Gardenhire

Q. Who you getting? When you getting him?

RON GARDENHIRE: I already got a couple.

Q. Who is next?

RON GARDENHIRE: That's enough for you to write about, isn't it? We're working up there, meeting with a lot of people, lot of agents, lot of conversations in the back rooms. So due process just like everybody else. We're sticking our hat in the ring with a lot of people seeing where they're at.

Q. How exciting is this process for you to think about the possibilities of additions?

RON GARDENHIRE: Well, I mean, we've gotten beaten up for three years now. You know, you know you need pitching. We're trying to get pitching. We've done a pretty good job at this point. We're looking at position players. We said we were going to get better, and that's our goal is to get better. We started that process, but by no means is it done. We're still working hard at it.

Q. Do you get the sense that Terry Ryan is more active with more prominent free agents and players based on the talks you know about? Can you tell?

RON GARDENHIRE: We're trying to get better. That's all I can tell you. Terry is active. We've been active here before putting our hand in. It doesn't mean we're going to do a lot more, but it means we're really trying. If the right guy works out, Terry is being really aggressive.

It's fun to watch. There are a lot of meetings going on, lot of good talking about a lot of players. I think Terry's pretty serious about this stuff. He always is. He knows we need to get better, and he wants to do it. And he's not trying to make it a total turnaround at once. No one believes we can do that, but we're going to get better and play better baseball.

Q. How comfortable are you with the starting rotation the way it is right now?

RON GARDENHIRE: Well, I know two guys that are in it. We'll figure out the rest. The rest of them, we've got a lot of candidates. Lot of guys that have some innings underneath their belts for us, and we'll see how it all shapes out. I'll tell you. But I sure like the first two slots. That's a nice start.

Q. So Correia's not necessarily guaranteed?

RON GARDENHIRE: No, Correia's in there, three slots, my bad.

Q. Terry had mentioned Deduno too, he said yesterday he's coming along okay?

RON GARDENHIRE: Yeah, he's got to come back off that. We'll see how he does by the time he gets to spring training we'll see how he's going. But we've got one for sure under contract.

Q. A.J. Pierzynski was in the lobby today working the room. He said one of the toughest parts of that process was talking to you on the phone when he made his decision to go to boss do not. What was that call like for you?

RON GARDENHIRE: Well, I was in my swimming pool. I was on my cell phone and called him. I had left a message go ahead and give me a call, and he called me back. Good conversation and I have a lot of respect for A.J. We've had him here. He's a winner, and I just kind of relayed that after the fact. He had already made his decision, but I kind of relayed that. A lot of respect for him, and the way he's played and how he's handled things. I wanted him to know that.

I called him up and said the exact same thing. If you get a chance, give me a call.

Q. During this process, did you talk to him?

RON GARDENHIRE: I threw a message at him. I called. I just wanted to find out where he was at and what his thoughts were. By the time I had done that, I think he was in the process of doing a physical already and the whole package.

Q. A lot of people will tell you the way you make up for lack of experience or what is perceived experience and talent in the majors is you play harder and play smarter. 12 games a year only two games a month trying to find where they might be. Is that sort of the mantra again back in spring training?

RON GARDENHIRE: Well, we've always said you have to outwork people. You know, I don't think the results were from our guys not working to have better players. We have to get guys that are winners and know how to win on the field, and obviously we weren't able to do that the last few years or so.

So we're looking for guys to step up. We've got some kids there now that are getting those at bats. Those 1500, 2000 at bats, and it's time for them to step up. We've got some young kids pushing and getting really close here that are going to be impact players, we believe. So we need some guys to step up this year.

We had a hard time last year in a lot of areas: Hitting, pitching, starting pitching. So it's not an easy fix. But there are some pretty good things here, some pretty talented people, but we need them to step up. And that's going to be what we're talking about.

Q. Do you like the idea of young guy competition? I want my at bats so I'm going to get them.

RON GARDENHIRE: You have to earn them. We've always said that around here, that you have to earn them. The tough part is when you get to those situations where really you don't have many options. These are what you have. Guys on the roster and guys that are ready to help you out. So you have to run these guys out there to see what they can do. We want to get away from that. We want to have options and that is depth. In the pitching, on the field, position players, and we're really close to having that.

We're doing some good things here that are definitely giving us more options. With some of these younger players finally start pushing like they are now, we're going to see a better product on the field if that's what you want to call it.

Q. Some of the options like Mauer's moving to first, might give you the ability to put them in order. Because I know really last year that was one of the reasons you never considered leadoff is that messed them up (No microphone). Is that something that's on your radar at leadoff?

RON GARDENHIRE: I'd really not like to have Joe leading off. That means he's going to come up a lot of times with nobody on base. My preference is for Joe to drive in runs. You have to have that option for people to get on ahead of him. If I don't have those number one and two guys or percentages like this, then you start taking other routes. I would like to see Joe in the three hole hitter that means we've got two guys getting out on ahead of him. He can do some damage, but you have to have those people ahead of him.

So it depends on how it all lays out here. Who we have at the top of the lineup whether we move Joe up.

Q. Do you think Joe can put up bigger numbers now that he doesn't have the daily rigors of catching and stuff like that?

RON GARDENHIRE: Well, I hope so. Talking about a guy that's getting beaten up with catching. He's taken a beaten back there, the s

Quatting, and the bending, and not much catchers hit the ball like he does and runs the bases like he does. If we could get him to have a healthier body on a consistent basis -- I'm not saying first base doesn't take a little bit of a beating there too. But I think we'll get him on the field 150 times, that's going to give us a pretty good chance. We need him on the field. Not taking the foul tips and not taking the beatings like he takes behind the plate, we'll see. That's what we're hoping for. This could be good.

Q. That will also open up DH time for a Willingham or someone else. What do you feel about a full time DH? Would you ever do that?

RON GARDENHIRE: I've always been able to use that DH in a lot of ways and give guys a little break. As we go along here, let's wait to see what we have when we get to spring training, and then we'll make all the decisions. Willingham likes to DH every once in a while. But he always likes to play the field. Feels better offensively when he's playing the field. But let's get to spring training and see what we have in the cup board, and we'll decide where to put him.

Q. What does Aaron Hicks need to do as a hitter to get better? And once he does become what he should be, where does he hit in the lineup?

RON GARDENHIRE: Well, that's a projection, projecting a lot of different things. Trying to project where he's going to hit in the lineup is going to depend on what he can do, and what he does with the bat. This guy has a lot of talent, a lot of tools that we saw in spring training. We saw him use them. He got a little overwhelmed as the season went along. The at bat scouts in the stands, those guys find out things you can, and cannot do and they got in his head a little bit.

Let's not forget, this guy is probably one of the more talented young players that you're going to see coming up. It's just a matter of getting his confidence back now. As we go along there whether he can be a leadoff guy. This guy has a chance to drive the ball and put in the seats an awful lot when he finds his swing and figures the game out a little bit more with more at bats. He can run; he's very athletic. He can be, who knows, a middle of the order guy, a top of the order guy. Just depends on your needs and how he handles the situations.

Q. Is there a specific adjustment he needs to make offensively outside of becoming more confident?

RON GARDENHIRE: Well, it's at bats. You need at bats. We gave him

Quite a few at bats up there, and his confidence went down. He's never been if you look at his history going from level to level, he's never been a guy that's dominated right away. So it's taken time at about every level he's been at. We'll see what happens.

We'll get to spring training and one thing we know is we have to give him an opportunity to regain his confidence. Understand some of the things we've been throwing at him about studying the game a little bit better, learning the situational baseball and all of these things. So it's going to be a matter of time here, but we think the world of him. He's pretty good. I really enjoy watching him play.

Q. How do you feel about your current group of catchers right now?

RON GARDENHIRE: Well, I mean, you take Mauer out, so that's a little tough. You're taking an All Star out from behind the plate. So I liked Pinto when he came up, but he only played a move baseball. I like the way he swung the bat. I liked his aggressiveness and the way he attacked. He has a lot of things to learn about calling a ballgame and handling pitchers and working with a lot of different pitchers. Doumit, you know, he had the issues of getting beaten up behind the plate. But he's a veteran guy that's going to have to help out right now.

Herrmann is a young kid again, and Fryer who came along really well last year. A lot of respect from this organization for Fryer because he handles pitchers really well. Very professional the way he goes about his business.

Do we have an All Star in the making here? Don't know. We're definitely going to be in a different situation with our catching. But a lot's going to be thrown on Doumit's shoulders right now.

Q. Because it seems you would need to have a veteran guy next to him to help the process?

RON GARDENHIRE: Sure, absolutely. We're going to have to have somebody that can kind of lead the way for him. He's a pretty tough kid. We saw some things last year that he needs to work on those things. Offensively he's strong enough. He did all right.

Q. You've won a bunch of divisions and you're one that hasn't won one the last few years. Personally, how do you handle it? You just said we've got to get more talented. We know it's a fact when you go from winning a lot to not winning as much, how does that work out for you personally?

RON GARDENHIRE: It's not fun. You know, you go through your career through the minor leagues are pretty successful. I had success at minor leagues, good players. When you're winning baseball games, it's all the players out on the field. We've had some talented people around here. We've had some injuries hurt us the first year. I think in '11. Some big injuries that knocked us down, and we really haven't recovered from that with some player movements and all those things.

It's about restocking. I'm just happy the Twins have given me an opportunity to come back and kind of right the ship and fix it. I've been through the good times, and I've been through some bad ones. I did the same thing with T.K. as a coach and manager.

I'm just happy I'm getting this opportunity to kind of turn this thing back the right way and move forward from there. It's tough. It's not easy to go out and watch us play like we did because I think every manager is infectious. We put a lot of stock into the fundamentals of the game. When those things start breaking down, it's tough. It's not easy. I take a lot of pride in that and it takes a hit. It's my responsibility as a manager.

Have I lost my confidence? Absolutely not. I know how to manage and my coaches know how to coach, but we have to do a good job. We don't have as much talent. At this moment there are a lot of other teams who have to really do their job.

Q. Was there an excitement going into spring knowing that you're going to work with young guys that have confidence in the organization?

RON GARDENHIRE: I like that. I like the fact that we're bringing in some people with big responsibility. We need to turn this thing around. A lot of people are going to be involved and a lot is on my table too, which is good. I want the responsibility of helping us get back.

Q. How happy are you with your team defense? Do you see yourself doing anything differently this year in regard to positioning rather than defensive shifts?

RON GARDENHIRE: We study everything. We get all kinds of charts. We've got everything. Defense is something we take a lot of pride in. We were better this year. Our up the middle pair probably turned as many double plays as anybody in the league. We still have some people that need to get better defensively. We know that we've got some people that are going to be average at best defenders, and you look for their offense to step up.

Defense is something we take a lot of pride in. Positioning, you can only position players if the pitchers are pitching to that position. They play them one way, and if your pitchers can't get the ball where they need to get it then, they're probably not going to hit the ball where your 're standing. So it starts out with the pitching. The pitching. If your pitchers do what they need to do, the defense will follow and go in the right position.

Q. In your ballpark, is defense particularly important?

RON GARDENHIRE: Yes, yes, it is. I mean, left field, the ball is a little shorter left field, right field is a tougher position. You know when you're building your outfield, part of the centerfield and right field, the left fielder, you have Willingham out there, and he can handle that. It's probably easier to play left field because it is the shorter wall, you can play deep and keep everything in front of you for the most part. Centerfield and right field are big. They're huge. You have to have some athletic people out there to run the ball down and Hicks was very good.

Q. (No microphone). I wonder whether with hitting, teams aren't going to position as much anymore.

RON GARDENHIRE: I think it's something people are going to start thinking about when you start losing, in our case, our best players to concussions and getting beaten up behind the plate. You have to start thinking about that. Our goal is to keep him on the field. We need Joe Mauer on the field.

And yes, he's a great catcher in the league, but we need him on the field. We can't keep watching him get beat up like this and sitting on the sidelines while we're trying to get better as a team.

This is important. It's important that Joe made this decision for us. Does it leave a hole behind the plate? Absolutely. It's taking your finger out of one hole and putting it in another. But this is a move that needed to be made for us, because we need Joe Mauer on the field.

Q. What do you think Paul Molitor will bring to your coaching staff?

RON GARDENHIRE: Credentials, a lot of knowledge of the game. He's touched on just about everything. He knows all these kids through the minor leagues. He's actually worked with all these kids that are coming up now. Base running, I'm excited to see that part of it because he's as good an instinctive base runner as I've ever seen. He brings that to the table. He's done infield with a lot of these guys that are already on the field, and some hitting stuff. I've talked to him about, you know, strategies of the game and this is going to be exciting to have his mind out there with us. He's fired up about it, which is a good thing. He's a Hall of Fame guy that's pretty good added to our staff.

Q. Will Mauer take part in any pitcher catcher meets before the series?

RON GARDENHIRE: Well, Mauer's going to be different. He's not going to have gear anymore. But as far as knowing the hitters, Joe knows them. He'll be able to help us out a lot of times with how we pitch people and all those things. So he'll be a good influence. His mind will be there to pick.

Q. I would think Joe might lead the league in visits to the mound, huh?

RON GARDENHIRE: I would hope so. He's a good guy to run out there.

Q. With as many measurables as there are in the game today, another part about young guys is to find out maybe a little bit about their make up as well, not just stop watches. Are you interested in seeing, again, how guys handle it?

RON GARDENHIRE: Always. I mean, you find out a lot about young kids. They can fool you. We saw that with Hicksy last year [CHK] in spring training. He killed. As good a spring training and then the season started, and he just put so much pressure on himself. He beat himself up too much and tried too hard. That's a step that every young kid has to get through. Not trying to be superman, and just being one of the guys. That's always fun to watch as a manager how he handles it and develops.

Q. How much did you guys shift? How much do you think you did overshift on the infield last year?

RON GARDENHIRE: Overshift? Depends on the hitter. Certain hitters give you that. They tell you to. But I don't think we shift as much as some teams.

Q. It's kind of gotten wild.

RON GARDENHIRE: It's wild sometimes. I look around and think holy. We have Justin Morneau trying to slap the ball to left field because they're shifting so hard. I guess that's what they want. But a pitcher makes a good pitch, and you see a guy get jammed and he gets one out there. It works. If you study the charts, it will tell you what to do.

It is something on paper that we study pretty hard, and we try to do it when we need to in situations.

Q. So you think you might do it is it a fair assessment you might do it a little more this year with pitchers who can execute pitches more so?

RON GARDENHIRE: It gives you a little bit of a chance if can you execute. You know where the ball's going and you can throw the baseball. It's easier to defend. You've got a guy and trying to find a hole and you got a pitcher that can't get the ball where he needs to, it makes it tough.

Q. Will Alex Meyer go to camp with a chance to make the team or is his innings load just too low in the Minors?

RON GARDENHIRE: Whether he's ready for this or not he'll tell us. He hasn't pitched in Triple A yet. Definitely had some shoulder injuries last year. We had to back him off a little bit. He missed some time. He had a heck of an Arizona fall league. To say he's going to make my team out of spring training, I'll never say no. I don't want any player coming in to spring training thinking they don't have a chance. But he's a long shot just because he didn't pitch a lot of innings last year, and we want to make sure we do the right thing. But he has a definite chance sometime throughout the year next year probably to get a chance to pitch.

Q. I've asked a few managers about fans have debated the DH for so long. Most managers will tell you that is an owner thing or an executive thing about uniformity. Is there a chance the managers will get to and talk to baseball about that? Because it doesn't seem with the rosters being the same size that it even makes a lot of sense.

RON GARDENHIRE: Each league is uni

Que in the way they go about it. I'll tell you this about the DH: We've seen a lot of players extend their careers and do some wonderful things because of the DH. So you take that DH away, and there are guys careers that are going to end a lot

Quicker, and I don't know if that's good because you're talking about some of the better baseball players. Still people getting a chance to watch them play and hope they win because of our league. If they were in any other league, they'd be pinch hitting, and they'd get bored. So the DH is a good thing. It's extended careers.

I was a National League player. I liked it over there because it gave me a chance to play because I wasn't very good. So when we pinch hit for people, I got a chance to play. So it was good for me in that league. But the DH has done a lot of good for a lot of people. A lot of players have extended their careers. Paul Molitor is one of them that got to play a little longer because of that.

I like the DH, and I like the two different leagues. The interleague, I wish they'd keep it one part of the season rather than spread out. I think it was easier when it was one time of the year. You prepared for it and went about your business. But being all year long like this is tough.

Q. Have you ever been in contact with Pelphrey at all lately?

RON GARDENHIRE: I haven't. Our team has.

Q. What can you say about the chances that Pelfrey comes back. Do you want to say anything publicly about how you think he benefits from the continuity of coming back after what you guys do?

RON GARDENHIRE: We have a lot of respect for Pelfrey. We're talking with him and working with him. We've basically made some offers and talked. It's a decision whether he wants to take it or go elsewhere. I love the guy. He's good for the clubhouse.

He came a long ways last year off his surgery. So now we'll just see, I'm stepping back and see if it works out. It's basically on his table. We've thrown it out there, and we'll see if he accepts it and go from there. But we hope it happens. He's throwing the ball 95 miles an hour and is past the elbow thing, so normally that's a good sign.

Q. The way he finished the season, were you encouraged he was going to take a couple more steps?

RON GARDENHIRE: Yeah, that's why we're offering. That's why we'd like him back. We went through this process, now we'd like to see the benefits and fruits of it going forward.

Q. You have something invested in him?

RON GARDENHIRE: Yeah.

Q. How early in the season did he make it clear to you guys how comfortable he was? I remember hearing he was talking back in July, he started saying I liked it here.

RON GARDENHIRE: What wouldn't you like about Minnesota? It's a great beautiful place. A great place to play baseball, a relaxed atmosphere, and the ballpark is as nice as it gets. I think he had a good relationship working with Andy. So hopefully it works out and he comes back. We like the young man an awful lot and he can help us win baseball.

Q. Do you know if there is a situation where you can only add one more pitcher, and he waits too long you can't bring him back or is that open ended?

RON GARDENHIRE: You know, you have another interview with the man upstairs. You walk up to the general managers and ask them that.

Q. We're not going to get much there.

RON GARDENHIRE: Not much here either.

Q. How big of a year is this for Trevor Plouffe?

RON GARDENHIRE: It's a big year. He had the one big year where he hit 25 or 27 home runs or whatever. Last year was kind of tough, worked through injuries and got a little better defensively. It's time. He's one of the players we're talking about. He stepped up. Needs to take control of that job and show us he's going to be the guy that we can count on, absolutely.

Q. What are your thoughts on Florimon and how much offense he could potentially give you?

RON GARDENHIRE: Pedro did well for us. He played great. You talk about offense of the shortstop and when your whole team is struggling, then everybody kind of gets blown out there. But when you have a good offensive team that can get away with one guy being a solid defensive player and you can do the little things.

The one thing that Pedro has to do is all the little things with the bat right now. Hopefully, we'll have enough offense to surround him, but we need him offensively. He can be better. He can cut down on strikeouts, which was way too many. He can bunt a lot more. He can get a lot of bunt bases. He can be an offensive player. We've seen him drive the ball. But if we get enough offense around him, we won't worry about Pedro as much.

Q. You brought up the strikeouts. I was going to ask you this is a team wide thing. Was he one of the main culprits looking to the called strike three, watching?

RON GARDENHIRE: I haven't looked at the numbers to see who struck out or who was looking and all those things. Let's put it this way. It was a team wide thing. We all did. We did it as a unit.

Q. How good was Pedro's year defensively because some of the advanced numbers that I've seen since the year ended said he was second best in baseball to Simmons?

RON GARDENHIRE: To me he was really, range wise, getting the outs he was supposed to, he got better and better. I like what I see more than anything else is being able to pay attention, look in the dugout and understand where hitters are hitting the ball and know what he gets to do. He's really aware, a lot more aware as the season went along. He and Dozier both, as the season went along last year, they understood the game, and that was the best part, having those two pay attention.