Found March 11, 2012 on Fox Sports North:
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FORT MYERS, Fla. With the New York Yankees in town, the Minnesota Twins rolled out what looked like a potential Opening Day lineup -- for a few hours, at least. Center fielder Denard Span was scratched from the lineup with a stiff neck just before game time. Span played in just 70 games last season due to a concussion and has also been hampered by vestibular neuritis during his career. But Twins general manager Terry Ryan insisted Sunday's neck stiffness wasn't related to either of those issues. "This has nothing to do with any of that," Ryan said. "He might have slept on it wrong. I don't think there's anything other than just a little stiffness." Prior to Sunday, Minnesota had managed to stay relatively healthy this spring after an injury-plagued 2011 season. Reliever Joel Zumaya suffered a season-ending arm injury early in camp, but Span's neck stiffness was the first real setback since then. "If this is the biggest injury we have to worry about this spring, we're in good shape," Ryan said. The situation was eerily similar to a game on Aug. 12 of last season. After players such as Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel finally returned to the lineup after battling injuries, Minnesota had its Opening Day lineup intact for the first time in a long time. But just before the game, outfielder Michael Cuddyer strained his neck during batting practice and was taken out of the lineup. It was the same day that Morneau returned to the lineup for the first time since June 9. Span is currently listed as day-to-day. Home runs fly in win over Yankees: The Twins hit just three home runs in nine Grapefruit League games prior to Sunday. They doubled that number with a three-homer effort in Sunday's 5-1 win over the visiting Yankees. Joe Benson, Danny Valencia and Michael Hollimon all went deep for Minnesota. Benson's solo homer came in the fifth inning as he tattooed a shot to left for a 1-0 Twins lead. Benson, 24, hit 16 homers for Double-A New Britain last year but didn't homer in 21 games with the Twins or during his time playing winter ball in Venezuela this offseason. He had been struggling at the plate this spring and was batting just .093 prior to Sunday. "He's got to quit worrying about that stuff and quit thinking about it," Twins manager Gardenhire said of Benson's struggles. "That (home run) was nice to see. It's nice to see a smile on the young man's face. He hit the ball a ton." For Valencia, it was his second homer in as many days, as he also cleared the fences Saturday against Pittsburgh. Sunday's blast was a solo shot to left in the seventh inning. Valencia said he's been working with Rod Carew and hitting coach Joe Vavra on his approach at the plate. The last few days could be an indication that the work is paying off. "It makes it all the more worthwhile, that's for sure," Valencia said. "It makes you feel like you're not out there taking 100 swings and getting blisters all over your hands for nothing. It's not so much the results I'm looking for, but the comfort in the batter's box and the feeling of my swing being short and direct to the ball." Hollimon finished the home run derby with a three-run shot in the eighth inning that put Minnesota up 5-1. The 29-year-old infielder has played just 11 games in the majors -- all in 2008 with Detroit. Last season, he split time between Double-A New Britain and Triple-A Rochester. In 97 games with the Rock Cats, Hollimon homered 16 times. Sunday's shot was deep to right field, the third of the day for the Twins. "Holliman can hit a little bit," Gardenhire said. "He's a good athlete. That was a nice swing today. See him do that a few more times, that will open up some eyes." Another strong outing for Blackburn: Twins right-hander Nick Blackburn had a solid start to the 2011 season, posting a 3.15 ERA through his first 15 starts. But he was hampered by a forearm injury the rest of the way and struggled late in the season. Following offseason surgery, Blackburn has looked sharp in his last two starts for the Twins. Sunday was his first Grapefruit League action, and he pitched three scoreless innings. Blackburn gave up three hits and didn't issue a walk against the 12 Yankees batters he faced. "I think I had a little bit more adrenaline out there today. I kind of battled myself a little bit," Blackburn said. "But for the first time out against an actual lineup, I'll take it. There's definitely stuff I need to work and it wasn't the best I've felt this spring, but I got through it and it's something to work on now." Nishioka day-to-day: Minnesota infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka is day-to-day with a strained left pinkie. Twins general manager Terry Ryan said the injury happened while Nishioka was applying a tag on a runner at second base in a game Saturday. Nishioka didn't play in Minnesota's game Sunday and won't travel with the team to Port Charlotte for Monday's game against Tampa Bay. "I just know he came in today and his hand was sore," Gardenhire said. "He told the trainers he wanted to play, but the doctors looked at him and said if we take a couple days now, maybe we'll get this thing out of the way and go from there." Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter.
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