MLB: Cuddyer will play where he's needed
MINNEAPOLIS -- It began with a little subterfuge, a week before the Minnesota Twins headed out for six road interleague games last month. Rightfielder Michael Cuddyer attempted to hide in plain sight at third base, taking grounders during batting...
MINNEAPOLIS -- It began with a little subterfuge, a week before the Minnesota Twins headed out for six road interleague games last month.
Rightfielder Michael Cuddyer attempted to hide in plain sight at third base, taking grounders during batting practice while looking serious.
At least one eyebrow was raised, and a reporter approached him after the drills and asked what was up.
"Ah, I'm just breaking the routine of catching fly balls before games," Cuddyer said.
So there's nothing to read into this? "Not at all," he said.
The truth was that Cuddyer was in the early stages of a move that could define the Twins' season. He hadn't played third base in a game since 2005, but manager Ron Gardenhire wanted Cuddyer to play third in road interleague games so Jason Kubel could play right and the improving Delmon Young could stay in left.
"I don't want Kubel to sit there," Gardenhire had told Cuddyer. "How do you feel about playing third?"
Cuddyer has continued to play third since interleague play ended, so the Twins appear to have decided to make a run for the postseason with as many weapons in the lineup as possible.
"Pretty formidable lineup," Cuddyer said. "Pretty deep. Pretty long. Pretty potent. The potential to do a lot of things."
Big Jim's roaring
While starting at third base was necessary for Kubel to remain in the lineup for interleague games, Cuddyer's move also allows Jim Thome to start as the designated hitter in American League games. Thome is batting .400 with four homers and eight RBI in his past six games -- hitting two homers Saturday -- so the switch has worked for the future Hall of Famer as well as the lineup.
"You definitely need Thome's bat in there," said Nick Punto, whose playing time at third base has been reduced because of Cuddyer's move there. "He proved it Saturday."
There will be times when the 39-year old Thome or Kubel will need a break, or the pitching matchup might not be favorable that night, leading to Cuddyer returning to right field.
But most pitchers are right-handed, so the new look of the Twins lineup is Thome batting seventh, Young eighth and shortstop J.J. Hardy ninth. Thome is a future Hall of Famer, Young might still make the All-Star team this year and Hardy was an All-Star in 2007.
"I asked Hardy if he's ever batted ninth," Gardenhire said. "He said, 'Nope.' I said, 'You are now.' That's pretty good when you have Hardy batting ninth."
Gardenhire will look like a genius if Thome maintains his production, Kubel thrives -- and Cuddyer hits. Cuddyer enters tonight's game at Toronto batting .263 with seven homers and 36 RBI, but he is batting only .244 as a third baseman.
Twins teams of recent years have had speed at the top and bottom of the order, encouraging Gardenhire to manufacture runs. This lineup features more power, with seven players who can drive the ball over the fence.
"That's pretty crazy," Kubel said as he chuckled.
Like riding a bike
Cuddyer also has started at first, second and center field this season. He wasn't sure if he would be comfortable returning to third base, the position the Twins expected him to settle into when he first played regularly in the majors in 2002. But the more he played there, the more the infield instincts returned.
Midway through the three-city interleague road trip, he told Gardenhire: "If that's how you feel it's going to make us the best, I'm all for it."
Cuddyer has been unable to field some grounders that Punto, the Opening Day starter at third, would have handled. The move clearly marginalizes Punto, who will be used more in a utility role.
"I'm not saying I'm doing well or not doing well," Cuddyer said. "I felt more comfortable over there as time went on. Comfortable enough to keep doing this if need be."
Gardenhire appears willing to sacrifice some defense to keep Thome's bat in the lineup as much as possible. The days of the scrappy "Piranhas" are long gone. With Thome, Kubel and Young in the lineup, Gardenhire has what he's called "the whole package."
That's where the Twins are at now, after Cuddyer began taking grounders at third last month and pretending that nothing was in the works.
He had some explaining to do to the same scribe after it was learned he was about to make his season debut at the hot corner.
Cuddyer saw the reporter approaching, smiled and said: "Are you mad at me about lying to you?"