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Cuddyer bets his career on mouthguard

Hitters will adopt virtually any ritual, talisman or superstition to get an edge: steroids, HGH, greenies, pine tar, high-tech batting gloves, rubbing the barrel of a bat on a bone, extra batting practice, human sacrifice, soft toss, hitting off ...

Hitters will adopt virtually any ritual, talisman or superstition to get an edge: steroids, HGH, greenies, pine tar, high-tech batting gloves, rubbing the barrel of a bat on a bone, extra batting practice, human sacrifice, soft toss, hitting off a tee, watching tapes, calling relatives for swing tips, changing types of wood and lacquer, wearing a lucky T-shirt, and -- in the case of the Chicago White Sox -- arranging their bats around a couple of blow-up dolls in the clubhouse.

Carlos Gomez appears to sniff his bat on the way to the batter's box. Justin Morneau wears a hockey T-shirt honoring one of his favorite players. Chuck Knoblauch adjusted his batting gloves until he cut off circulation. Now Michael Cuddyer is going where no Twin has gone before in his search for that extra hit or two a week:

He's trying a sports version of orthodontia.

Cuddyer heard about a bunch of Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers players who have begun wearing a specialized mouthpiece to improve their hitting, fielding, throwing and general range of motion. He submitted to tests and a 75-minute fitting process, has begun wearing a prototype and hopes to begin wearing the real mouthpiece soon.

"Manny Ramirez is a big endorser of it," Cuddyer said of the Red Sox star. "Seven Tigers are wearing it, a few Toronto players are wearing it, and I thought, 'Well, I'll give it a shot.'

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"The way it's been explained to me is it relaxes your jaw, which relaxes your face, which relaxes your shoulders and traps (trapezius muscles), and all of that is a key to athletic performance."

Twins strength and conditioning coach Perry Castellano is besieged with the sports world's witch doctors and snake-oil salesmen, entrepreneurs pushing the next big thing.

Some work. Some are placebos -- effective because they increase an athlete's confidence, not because they are effective in and of themselves. Some are fraudulent.

Castellano was approached by a local dentist about the PPM -- the Pure Power Mouthguard. Castellano researched the product and figured the easy going, open-minded Cuddyer might be willing to try it.

Cuddyer submitted to a fitting. When wearing the PPM, he experienced a great increase in range of motion when he rotated his torso. "That would help with hitting and with throwing," he said. "It's fascinating to me. David Ortiz says Manny loves it, that it's all he talks about. So I figured I'll give it a shot. It can't hurt. And if it does hurt, I'll stop wearing it."

Morneau, asked if he's going to try it, quickly said, "No."

Why not? "It doesn't interest me," he said. "I really haven't heard the whole spiel on what it's supposed to do."

What if Cuddyer gets hot? "We'll see," Morneau said.

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Twins infielder Nick Punto was asked if he'll try it.

"I'll look and see how Cuddyer likes it, but I'm not going to try it yet," he said. "Cuddyer will be our guinea pig.

"If, for some reason, he starts hitting the ball well, I'm sure we'll all jump on board. That's the way we are."

Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith and Red Sox players Dustin Pedroia and Jonathan Papelbon are among the other athletes who supposedly use the PPM.

More information about the mouthguard is available at PPMmouthguard.com.

"There are so many gimmicks out there, but the other day I watched Michael getting fitted, and they put the sensors on his face and looked at the large muscles of his neck, and his facial muscles, and he had increased range of motion," Castellano said. "Not an inch. Eight to 10 inches.

"Even if it's all smoke and mirrors, it still worked."

His teammates will be interested in just how well it works. Wearing a lucky T-shirt can help you only so much.

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Souhan writes for the Star Tribune (Minneapolis).

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