MINNEAPOLIS -- Twins manager Ron Gardenhire had never seen a season quite like 2011 in regard to injuries. Heck, he even had an Achilles' injury at one point in the season.
As the health of the Minnesota Twins dwindled, so too did the wins. From the first week of the season until the last game of the year, Gardenhire never had a full squad on the field as the Twins finished 63-99, last in the American League Central.
So as the team turns the page on 2011 and prepares for 2012 -- beginning this weekend with TwinsFest at the Metrodome -- Gardenhire is hopeful for a healthy year ahead. That means the return of former MVPs Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, both of whom missed significant time last year.
"The big question's our health," Gardenhire said Friday. "If Morneau's there, he's my first baseman. If Mauer's there, he's our catcher. If that doesn't look like it's going to work out and somebody tells me that they don't think this is the right way to go, then we'll have to do some ad-libbing. But until then, I really want to go in there knowing what we have and where these guys are going to be. I want them to know that."
Mauer says he's feeling much better this offseason than he did last offseason, when he was recovering from knee surgery. The Twins catcher missed two months early in the year with bilateral leg weakness and was sidelined with pneumonia to end 2011.
Morneau missed time with various ailments, including a wrist injury and concussion symptoms that carried over from the 2010 season. Center fielder Denard Span also missed time with a concussion in 2011 but says he's feeling healthier than he has in two years.
Still, with so many players coming back from tough injuries, Gardenhire knows he has to be careful when spring training starts next month. But he's hoping he won't have to rely on the team's medical staff as much this year as he did in 2011.
"You know what, I was under the control of a lot of doctors last year," Gardenhire said. "I really hope that I have control at spring training this year where I can get the guys ready like I've been able to do for as long as I've been in the game. That's my big goal this year: to get to spring training and have control of these guys and not having doctors tell me how many innings they can play and how many days they can play a week."
If Span is indeed healthy, he'll be the Twins' everyday center fielder, Gardenhire said. Span was batting .300 with a .367 on-base percentage as Minnesota's leadoff hitter in 2011 before suffering his concussion in early June during a collision at the plate. Gardenhire is confident Span can return to that role to help set the table for the rest of the lineup.
"He's going to lead off and be my center fielder. That's my expectation," Gardenhire said. "If somebody were to tell me that he's not able to do that, then we'd have to ad lib. But if Denard comes in healthy, then he's my center fielder, there's no questions to me about that."
With Span in center, there could be a platoon in left field of Ben Revere and Trevor Plouffe, whom the Twins have said they'll move from shortstop to the outfield. GM Terry Ryan has said the team will play offseason acquisition Josh Willingham in right field in place of Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel -- both of whom signed elsewhere this offseason.
"I plan on Ben being our left fielder, and maybe a little (Plouffe) out there every once in a while," Gardenhire said. "But definitely Denard is my center fielder."
Gardenhire also addressed the topic of his opening day starter, Carl Pavano. The 36-year-old veteran was 9-13 with a 4.30 ERA last season and has been tabbed as the Twins' starter for the 2012 season opener -- but he hadn't officially heard it from his manager until Friday.
"I went up to him yesterday and I said, 'Gardy, were you going to tell me that I was starting on opening day?'" Pavano said. "He goes, 'No one told you?' . . . I've been actually hearing it from all my buddies. They've been texting me and I'm going, 'What are you talking about? Are you guys looking at newspaper clippings from last year?'"
This will be Pavano's third opening day start of his career. He had that honor for the Twins in 2011 and also started opening day for the New York Yankees in 2007.
"I know Carl said we haven't told him, but the pitching coach called me up and told me Carl was the starter, so I agree with him," Gardenhire said.
Pascual to the Hall: At Friday's media luncheon at Target Field, Twins president Dave St. Peter announced that former Twins pitcher Camilo Pascual will be inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame this season after a "landslide" vote.
The right-handed Pascual spent 13 years with the Washington Senators and Minnesota Twins, from 1954-66. During that time, the Cuba native Pascual was 145-141 with a 3.66 ERA in 331 starts. He pitched 31 shutouts and 119 complete games. He led the league in complete games in three different seasons, including having 18 each in 1962-63.
The team will also unveil a bronze statue of former first baseman and Bloomington native Kent Hrbek. St. Peter said the pose for the statue is still not decided, but it will be displayed outside of Gate 14 at Target Field.
The Twins have also put in a bid to host the 2014 MLB All-Star Game at Target Field but are still awaiting word from the league.
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