Spring Training Quick Hits: March 23

Baker hit a speed bump on Wednesday.

Here is the latest edition of Spring Training Quick Hits.

Right-hander Scott Baker's cruise-control drive toward the fifth-starter's job hit a bump Wednesday night when he walked three and hit a batter during a 4 1/3-inning start against Cincinnati.

Baker, a rookie, gave up only two hits and two runs in the outing, but the control issues raised eyebrows. He had walked only two in 12 2/3 innings this spring before prior to Wednesday.

Meanwhile, left-hander Francisco Liriano, also a rookie, pitched a scoreless inning with two strikeouts in his first inning of work since rejoining the team after pitching in the World Baseball Classic for the Dominican Republic.

Liriano, who's supposed to be the one of the two with command issues, looked good. He's expected to get his first start of the spring in the next several days.

Baker still appears to have the edge in the fifth-starter race, but that could change if Liriano -- who has the better stuff -- has a lights-out finish to camp and Baker struggles down the stretch.

An increasingly likely scenario has both making the club, Liriano in a lefty-thin bullpen -- although the front office would rather have its top starting pitching prospect open the season in somebody's rotation, even if that means sending him to Triple-A Rochester when camp breaks.

"If that looks like our best choice to get people out from the left side," manager Ron Gardenhire said, "and it looks like we'll be able to use (Liriano) quite a bit, then I wouldn't be afraid to do it."

NOTES, QUOTES:

  • LHP Francisco Liriano looked sharp Wednesday in his first Grapefruit League inning. The rookie said that despite missing an important part of spring training because of the World Baseball Classic, the international experience gave him an advantage as he returned to camp. One major part of that advantage, he said, was the counsel he received from 2005 Cy Young Award winner Bartolo Colon, a Dominican teammate, who mentored him on how to handle pitching in pressure situations.

  • SS Jason Bartlett, the favorite to win the Opening Day shortstop job when camp opened, continued to struggle when the team returned from it's lone off day of the spring to play Cincinnati on Wednesday night. He committed an error that led to two runs in the sixth inning of a 4-3 loss -- giving him three misplays in the field in his past two starts. He also struck out looking to end the game after the Twins scored two in the ninth to get within a run. Bartlett's struggles may open the door for SS/2B Nick Punto to win the Opening Day job.

  • RHP Juan Rincon, who threw again on the side Wednesday, said he continues to get better, and the setup reliever could see his first game action of the spring by early next week. Rincon has been held out as he recovers from soreness in the muscles around his pitching elbow, on which he had bone-chip surgery in the offseason.

  • RHP Brad Radke said that the shoulder that bothered him much of last season not only feels good this spring, but that he has felt as loose throwing this spring as he ever has. Radke, in the final year of a two-year, $18 million contract, decided against surgery to repair the slight tear in the shoulder, and the decision looks good so far. He is scheduled to make his second-to-last start of the spring on Sunday.

  • CF Torii Hunter on the likelihood the approval of funding for a new stadium would keep him with the Twins beyond this year (Minnesota has a $12 million contract option for 2007): "I can't sit around and wait for a stadium, or wait for guys to develop. I'm 30. I've got to try to win. That's what we're trying to do this year. The year after that? We'll see what happens."
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