Familiar look early, but new season for Twins

BY foxsports • April 6, 2012

The Minnesota Twins opened their season in Baltimore on Friday able to finally start with a clean slate after last year's disappointing 63-99 record.

But three batters into the bottom of the first inning, the look of the season opener had a certain déjà vu feeling. Former Twin J.J. Hardy had walked and Nick Markakis followed for the Orioles with a one-out, two-run home run to put Minnesota in a 2-0 hole.

This is a clean slate and different season for Minnesota, though. A peek at the Opening Day lineup was enough to prove that. Denard Span was leading off and playing center field. Joe Mauer was catching and hitting third. Justin Morneau -- while playing designated hitter -- was healthy and the Twins' cleanup hitter in Friday's 4-2 loss.

With other additions like Josh Willingham, who hit a two-run home run, and Jamey Carroll, who made at least two standout defensive plays at shortstop, Minnesota did look like a different team despite the result.

"We got back into it," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We had the guys out there at the end. That's what you've got to keep doing, play for nine innings and we did that today, happy with that. Unfortunately, we lost the ballgame. But (you) never know what's going to happen on Opening Day."

Even one loss wasn't going to change the feeling things are different this time. After Willingham's homer, the Twins also had runners at first and third before Trevor Plouffe grounded out to end the game.

"We gave ourselves a shot," Gardenhire said. "There's not going to be any quitting. Guys were into it. Willy hit the big home run and we put ourselves out there. In another situation if we get another big hit, who knows what happens?

"That's a good thing. But a loss is a loss. We lost the ballgame, but now you've got to come back tomorrow, turn the page, and we've got to come back out there and try to score some runs for our pitcher."

Unlike last season, Minnesota has a healthy lineup with which to turn the page. Last year's Opening Day lineup stayed together for only the first week and was never able to be reconstructed due to injuries. Span, Mauer and Morneau are healthy now. Willingham is part of a lineup that has only three position players returning to the same spot.

Span had two hits Friday. Mauer had two walks and scored on Willingham's homer. Morneau also had a hit.

"Depth is never overrated, especially with a team we rely on a lot of guys we didn't have last year," Pavano said. "We have a lot of year ahead of us. Obviously we'd have liked to have gotten off on the right foot today. We didn't do that. We got beat."

Last year, Pavano gave up eight runs - seven earned - in four innings in a 13-3 opening loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. This time around, he recovered after Markakis' home run and went seven innings, giving up five hits and four runs.

And he was backed by strong defense. The Twins' long-time mantra of pitching to contact and playing good defense was a weak spot last season. Friday, Carroll made two very good plays at shortstop, where Tsuyoshi Nishioka struggled last year, and Willingham threw a runner out at home plate in the sixth inning.

"It's only one game," Pavano cautioned. "I put us behind, 3-0, by the second or third inning. Sometimes that gets to lull the guys a little bit and takes them a little while to get out of that funk, but I thought they played great behind me."

Robby Incmikoski contributed reporting to this story.

Follow Brian Hall on Twitter.


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