Twins break camp, head to Minnesota
Club excited to play two exhibition games at Target Field
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Most of the Twins spent Thursday morning weaving and bobbing through the clubhouse, packing bags and snapping jokes back and forth. Orlando Hudson held court in the trainer's room with a group of teammates and coaches. Another group loitered around Joe Mauer's locker following a brief team meeting.
"It was definitely different getting prepared this morning than usual," Thursday's starter, Nick Blackburn, said. "Everyone's scrambling around."
Some of them scrambled to the other side of Fort Myers, where the Twins lost to the Red Sox, 5-3, at City of Palms Park. And there, for about three hours, time slowed.
"It was fine once I got in there and started throwing a little bit," Blackburn said. "I went out to the bullpen and my focus set right in where it needed to be. Everything felt great when I got here and got settled down."
And it showed. Blackburn, who is set to pitch Game 2 of the season in Anaheim, allowed three runs in five innings against the Sox, striking out two and walking none. It was Blackburn's final tuneup of a successful Grapefruit League season.
The previous day, general manager Bill Smith referred to Blackburn's 2009 season as a "carbon copy" of his 2008 campaign. Most teams would take that. But the Twins see it as reason to believe that Blackburn, smack in the middle of his prime at age 28, can improve upon his 11-11 record and 4.03 ERA.
"We're hopeful that he's going to be better," Smith said.
The Twins will find out soon enough. Shortly after arriving back at Hammond Stadium, the Twins piled aboard buses bound for the airport, where they headed to Minneapolis and the promise of summer baseball.
The buses arrived at just the right time.
"For the most part," Blackburn said, "I think we're just ready to get the season going."
Condrey stays behind in Florida
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- When the Twins' plane flew north to Minneapolis, right-hander Clay Condrey wasn't on it.
But he will be on the Opening Day roster.
Condrey has recovered from a bout of weakness in his throwing shoulder and soreness in his elbow, allowing him to claim the final spot in the Twins' bullpen. But he will remain in Fort Myers to pitch on Saturday, thereby continuing to work without fear of any weather-related disruptions in Minnesota.
"We want to make sure he throws," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "But he went out and played long toss today and everything feels great, so I would say that we're on line with that."
Lefty Ron Mahay, who would have made the roster if Condrey was unable to go, and fifth starter Francisco Liriano also remained in Florida when the Twins headed north. Mahay, who signed with Minnesota last week, stayed in Fort Myers for extended spring training. Presumably, he would be the first man called upon if the team needs bullpen help. And Liriano will make one final start in Fort Myers on Sunday, before rejoining the club in Anaheim.
Mahay made his Grapefruit League debut against the Red Sox on Thursday, allowing two runs in one inning on three hits and a walk.
"We're just trying to get him acclimated," Gardenhire said.
Neshek's arm ready for regular season
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Earlier this spring, the Twins clung to the notion that Pat Neshek would need to pitch in back-to-back games in order to be ready for the season.
Neshek did not accomplish the feat. But he is ready nonetheless.
Confident in Neshek's ability to go back-to-back and unwilling to put undue stress on his arm, the Twins ditched their plans to have Neshek pitch in a second consecutive Grapefruit League game on Thursday. Instead, Neshek will join the bullpen in Minneapolis and -- the club hopes -- remain a regular member of it throughout the season.
"Neshek has been fine," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "The concern has kind of gone away. He's throwing the ball great."
Neshek, now fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, hasn't thrown a pitch in the big leagues since May 8, 2008.
"He's like everybody else now," Gardenhire said. "We know what he's been through. He's been out a couple of years, but he's healthy. The arm's holding up great. Hopefully we can keep it that way."
Gardenhire, Span want more protection
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was relieved to hear that Denard Span's mother is doing well, but he remains concerned for those who sit behind the dugouts at stadiums around the country.
Span struck his mother, Wanda Wilson, with a foul ball during Wednesday's split-squad game against the Yankees in Tampa, Fla.
"It's unbelievable," Gardenhire said. "I've thought about that so many times when my wife is sitting in the stands, my kids are up there. You always think about that. I see fly balls go up toward their section and you're always looking back up there thinking they're going to get whacked. They haven't. And then you see something like that."
After the incident, Span said he thought more stadiums should extend protective netting to the edges of the dugouts.
"It's scary," Gardenhire said. "Your nightmare as a player."
Target Field, which will open for a pair of exhibition games this weekend, features seating closer to the field than the Metrodome, meaning the risk for foul balls entering the stands will increase. Extending netting past the dugouts, however, could draw the ire of those who paid top dollar for premium seats.
"I don't know if there's an easy solution," Gardenhire said. "I know where I want my family, and that's behind the nets, because I've seen too much."
Gardenhire sets Opening Day lineup
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Twins' lineup is set for Opening Day. Almost.
Nick Punto will start at third base in Monday's season opener in Anaheim -- that much is certain. He will also start the bulk of games there this season, in what manager Ron Gardenhire insists is not a strict platoon with Brendan Harris. Nonetheless, the right-handed Harris will start Game 2 of the season against Angels lefty Joe Saunders.
Barring a late change, Delmon Young will play left field on Opening Day, Jason Kubel will start at designated hitter and Jim Thome will ride the bench. Gardenhire said he could change those plans based on matchups, though Thome's career 3-for-10 mark against Angels starter Jered Weaver may not be enough to inspire him to do so.
Then again, Thome's booming home run in Thursday's Grapefruit League finale could change Gardenhire's mind.
Meanwhile, the main attractions in the Opening Day lineup, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, were both absent from the game against the Red Sox on Thursday. Mauer stayed back at Hammond Stadium to rest, in preparation for Friday's exhibition at Target Field. And Morneau played in a Minor League game, taking extra at-bats by leading off every inning.
Morneau finished 2-for-5 with a double.
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.