Update: Twins players glad for end of spring training; Morales gets backup catching job

UPDATE: The Twins reassigned reliever Jose Mijares, catcher Drew Butera, and non-roster infielder Alejandro Machado to the minor-league camp this morning.

General manager Bill Smith said Jose Morales’ two seasons of Class AAA experience and rapid defensive improvement in camp earned him the backup catching job over Butera, who has never played above Class AA.

Morales cried when Gardenhire gave him the news. “He should,” Smith said. “It’s an emotional moment.”

The Twins still need to cut one pitcher and one backup infielder to get down to 25 players before breaking camp on Saturday. 

At this point, the Twins plan to take 12 pitchers and only two catchers north, with Joe Mauer starting the season on the disabled list. Gardenhire feels they need the extra pitcher since the Twins play 14 straight days to start the season.

FORT MYERS, Fla. — A crisp, dewy early morning gave way to a sunny, warm and cloudless afternoon in southwest Florida, not far from the Gulf of Mexico. The aroma of grilling burgers and brats from a second-floor food stand filled the air at Hammond Stadium, where the Twins and Tampa Bay Rays met today in a Grapefruit League exhibition game.

“It’s hard to go back home after a day like this,” said Twins broadcaster Dick Bremer, eating peanuts in the press box while taking a break from the Fox Sports Net broadcast. Alas, he had to, and into an approaching snowstorm at that.

Hammond Stadium was one of the first of the “modern” spring training ballparks when it welcomed the Twins from Orlando in 1991, during that period when Florida towns openly courted teams with promises of sparkling new facilities.

With the Dodgers abandoning Vero Beach and Dodgertown for Arizona after last spring, few of the quaint old joints remain.

McKechnie Field in Bradenton, home of the Pirates since 1969, is a renovated park with an old-time feel, and one of the few reminders of the time before teams turned spring training from a clambake into a big-time revenue stream. Now the preferred atmosphere is like the Phillies’ Bright House Field in Clearwater, with a tiki bar in left field, a grassy berm in center, and $30 tickets on the club level for games that do not count. (The Red Sox, near downtown Fort Myers, charge $46 for home plate boxes and $10 for standing room.)

 Of the newer places, Hammond was always a favorite because of its simple yet pleasant design, good sightlines, appropriate size (about 7,500 capacity) and lack of ear-splitting distractions. Cows grazed beyond the left field fence in the early years, before farmland gave way to developments with Spanish-tile roofs. We miss the cows, who predicted rain by lying down — a better track record than many TV weathermen.

Nineteen years after it opened, Hammond is beginning to show its age. A little rust here, a little dirt there. But it’s still a fun place to watch a game. And since the suites and the press box are on the same level, you never know who’s going to drop by. Ex-Twin Gary Gaetti, beer in hand, popped in Sunday when his son Joe, a Twins minor-leaguer, subbed in late in the game against St. Louis.

This is the part of spring training that players detest. The ones with jobs secured are sick of Florida and can’t wait for the season to start. This spring, with an earlier start because of the World Baseball Classic, seemed like it went on forever. “We’ve been here awhile, and I think we’re all looking forward to getting out,” said pitcher Glen Perkins, who worked six scoreless innings in Monday’s 3-2 victory over Tampa Bay and ex-Twin Matt Garza.

The Twins still have roster decisions to make, and manager Ron Gardenhire said the bullpen choices are coming Tuesday morning. A lousy spring by lefty Jose Mijares, who ate and pitched his way out of a job (9.90 ERA), magnified general manager Bill Smith’s failure to land a veteran in the off-season.

 Philip Humber, who is out of minor-league options and cannot be demoted without clearing waivers, and lefthanded Class AAA starter Brian Duensing (1.93 ERA in 14 innings) may both make it, unless Smith stuns us all with a waiver claim or an under-the-radar deal. The Twins want Duensing to throw more curveballs; Carlos Pena homered off a Duensing fastball for the Rays’ runs Monday. 

With Joe Mauer (sore back) due to start the season on the disabled list, the choice of Drew Butera or Jose Morales as Mike Redmond’s backup may go down to Saturday, when the Twins break camp. So could the final backup infield job, where the most versatile candidate, Matt Tolbert, may lose out because he has minor-league options.

Two newsworthy developments on Monday could determine things. Garza drilled Crede in the right knuckles with a fastball in the sixth inning. Crede said the Twins medical staff told him it was bruised. “We’ll see how it is tomorrow,” he said. “They’re trying to keep the swelling out of it.”

And Gardenhire said Delmon Young, one of the four rotating outfielders, can’t throw and won’t play for several days because of a sore right shoulder. In a feisty mood, Gardenhire said he had no idea how Young hurt it. “Probably picking up computer,” he said. “I don’t want to know why. I don’t ask any more.”

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