Revamped bullpen continues to shine
Closer Rauch has slotted in nicely with Nathan sidelined
CHICAGO -- The consensus of baseball's preseason prognosticators was that while the Twins had improved their lineup, the bullpen was going to suffer because of the loss of closer Joe Nathan because of season-ending Tommy John surgery on his elbow. So far, so good for Gardenhire's revamped relief core.
As a group, Twins relievers had posted a 1.65 ERA with 12 strikeouts and zero walks in 16 1/3 innings heading into Saturday's game. New closer Jon Rauch was three-for-three in save opportunities. Rauch closed the door once again on Saturday against the White Sox, blanking them for save No. 4 in a 2-1 victory.
"When you lose a guy of Nathan's ability, that's a big guy," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "You're only as good as the back end of your bullpen.
"We've had to change our bullpen around to get this done. So far, it's doing OK."
After the news broke that Nathan's season was over, Gardenhire initially said he would go with a bullpen-by-committee approach. However, he shortly thereafter handed the closer's role to Rauch. He says he had his eye on Rauch all along.
"We waited as long as we could [to name a closer] in case we brought in some outside help," Gardenhire said.
"We want stability out there. We don't want guys pitching all over the place. You want guys to know where they're at. It's really a pretty good thing when guys know when they're going to pitch."
Tired Twins focused on finishing trip strong
CHICAGO -- They say there's no place like home, but the Twins have a couple of days before they can concern themselves with such platitudes.
The Twins' 4-3 win over the White Sox in extra innings on Friday pushed their record to 4-1, the first time Minnesota has won four of five on the road to start a season since manager Ron Gardenhire's first season in 2002. The success has come with a cost: rest.
After arriving in Chicago in the wee hours of Friday morning, Minnesota found itself in a three-hour forty-three-minute marathon in which Gardenhire used five pitchers and all four of his bench players. Compounding the team's collective fatigue was Saturday's 12:05 CT first pitch at U.S. Cellular Field.
"It was tough to sleep, I was so tired," said Twins pitcher Nick Blackburn, who starts for Minnesota in Sunday's series finale.
"You just have got to sleep fast," said Twins catcher Drew Butera, who made his big league debut in Friday's game.
With the pomp of Monday's opening of Target Field in Minneapolis looming and a long trip behind them, the Twins are trying to stay focused on the two games remaining against Chicago. At stake is the chance to turn a good road trip into a great road trip.
"We're playing the White Sox," Gardenhire said, "and that's a whole statement in itself. [My players] get up for this. I don't think there's any worry of a letdown or looking ahead."
As for the travel fatigue, there is one surefire remedy.
"When you win ballgames, that helps," said Twins infielder Nick Punto.
Twins defense has been perfect early on
CHICAGO -- The Twins have always had a reputation for solid defensive play under manager Ron Gardenhire, so it's no surprise that Minnesota is one of two big league teams yet to commit an error entering Saturday's games.
While fielding has been a hallmark of Minnesota's success over the last decade, the defensive work has a chance to be even better this season after the club's offseason acquisitions of second baseman Orlando Hudson and shortstop J.J. Hardy.
"We think we can catch the ball," Gardenhire said. "If Hardy hasn't won a Gold Glove, which I don't think he has, he looks like that kind of a guy, which is what we thought when we got him.
"Hudson is a Gold Glover and Nicky Punto could win a Gold Glove at any position. We work really hard at catching the ball."
Hudson isn't buying any premature talk of the Twins being an elite defensive team.
"Five games in," Hudson said. "It's been a short season so far. We haven't got started yet."
Butera feels comfortable following debut
CHICAGO -- Rookie catcher Drew Butera was feeling good before Saturday's game, a day after making his big league debut, filling in at catcher for a resting Joe Mauer.
"It went pretty good. We got the win, which is always nice," Butera said. "I enjoyed it, it was everything I expected it to be.
After the game on Friday, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire praised Butera's work with Minnesota's pitching staff, especially starter Francisco Liriano. Butera says he's had enough experience with the Twins staff that he feels comfortable working with them behind the plate.
"It helped me the last couple of years in Spring Training when I got to catch them a little bit," Butera said. "It's a pretty easy transition from Spring Training to here.
"It's a good group of guys. They're really easy to work with."
Gardenhire notes that it's Butera's defensive ability that has gotten him to the big leagues.
"He handled himself very well back there," Gardenhire said before Saturday's game. "He called a good ballgame. That's his forte. He's a good catch-and-throw guy."
Is Twins small ball going by wayside?
CHICAGO -- Under manager Ron Gardenhire, the Twins have been known as a team that isn't afraid to move baserunners or lay down a bunt. In Friday's game, Denard Span's 11th-inning sacrifice bunt moved Joe Mauer into scoring position. A couple of batters later, J.J. Hardy's single drove home Span with what proved to be the winning run. However, this kind of baseball may be scarcer in Minnesota than it's been in the past.
"Everybody says I like the National League style, but I've never managed there," said Gardenhire. "The Metrodome was more conducive to that kind of ball, but [this year] we've got a chance to whack the ball pretty good."
Bradford Doolittle is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.