FORT MYERS - Watching Livan Hernandez throw BP to Twins hitters here this morning. Hernandez was a late acquisition by GM Bill Smith as someone "who can give us 200 innings" on a staff of predominantly younger pitchers.
Despite the loss of Johan Santana, there's still optimism that this won't be the all-out "rebuilding" year that everyone assumes. Not with guys like Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer etc in a lineup that should produce runs.
One thing Smith told me this morning was the center field job is not being handed to Carlos Gomez who was acquired from the Mets in the Johan Santana deal. Smith said former No. 1 pick Denard Span, Jason Pridie, acquired from Tampa Bay, and veteran Craig Monroe, are all competing. Gomez is 22, with a world of raw talent, but what spring training will determine is whether he can hit off-speed pitches at the major league level.
Smith also said that Francisco Liriano should be in camp by Tuesday. Liriano's visa was held up in the Dominican because he had a drunk driving arrest (2006 in Cape Coral) within the last three years and had to be referrd to a panel of physicians for evaluation per order of Sec. of State Condeleeza Rice's recent initiative. Liriano, who is coming back from Tommy John surgery, should be able to assume his role as the team's top left-handed starter.
"We've been monitoring his throwing sessions in the Dominican and he's doing very well," Smith said. Smith said the team has pretty much ruled out usijg Liriano out of the bullpen because of the "up and down" and werar and tear on his elbow. So he will be a starter. Asked whether he though Liriano had a chance to be their No. 1 starter, he said, "That's for our manager and pitching coach do decide. We know he'll be in the rotation somewhere."
Adorning the walls of Smith's office are sketches, photos and architect's renderings of the new (yet unnamed) Twins' ballpark which Smith has worked hard on. Very little foul territory. The field looks like Wrigley, but Smith insists the field is not based on any other ballpark. Opening in 2010. God, I'll miss the Metrodome.