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Even without the Twins’ magic pixie dust, two out of three ain’t bad

Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, and Denard Span each came up empty in crucial spots Sunday, as Morneau and Kubel had back-to-back strikeouts with the bases loaded in the seventh inning and Span grounded into a double play with two runners on base in the ninth inning. Those three at-bats stand out in a 4-2 loss, but along with Jose Morales‘ hot hitting in a part-time role the trio of Morneau, Kubel, and Span has basically carried the offense through three weeks.

Span has batted .309/.385/.397 with three stolen bases atop the lineup while Morneau and Kubel have hit .316/.354/.539 and .328/.358/.641 in the middle of the order, yet the Twins’ offense ranks just 12th in the league with 4.2 runs per game. Fortunately it sounds like Joe Mauer may come off the disabled list as soon as Friday.

Mauer is three games into his minor-league rehab assignment at high Single-A, catching twice and going 4-for-11 with a double at the plate. Given how well the Span-Morneau-Kubel trio is producing and how poorly Alexi Casilla has fared since coming back from a thumb injury last August, I’m hoping Ron Gardenhire gives Mauer another shot hitting second. Wishful thinking, but Span-Mauer-Morneau-Kubel would look awfully nice and it’s not like Casilla would do much to “break up the lefties” anyway.

Kevin Slowey has bounced back nicely with two strong starts since allowing 13 hits to the Blue Jays on April 13 and is now 3-0 with a 4.44 ERA and 19-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 26.1 innings. He took a shutout into the ninth inning Saturday versus the Indians before settling for eight innings of one-run ball with seven strikeouts and zero walks. Slowey continues to struggle against left-handed hitters, but he’s still missing plenty of bats and has now handed out zero walks in 21 of his 42 career starts.

Glen Perkins‘ streak of consecutive eight-inning starts was snapped at three Sunday afternoon as he took the loss against Cleveland while allowing four runs over five innings. With a 2.48 ERA through four starts, Perkins has been the most effective member of the Twins’ rotation so far, but all the quotes and articles about the many improvements he’s made are a tad premature given that a huge portion of his early success stems from allowing zero homers in 29 innings.

You wouldn’t know it based on all the excitement surrounding his homer-less first month, but Perkins’ strikeout, walk, and ground-ball rates remain nearly identical to last season and as one of the league’s most extreme fly-ball pitchers, the homers are inevitable. Over time, fly balls tend to turn into homers at a fairly standard rate, and once you normalize for that, Perkins’ performance is right along the same lines as what he did while posting a 4.41 ERA in 26 starts last season.

Span and Kubel are thriving, but the rest of the vaunted “outfield depth” has really struggled. Michael Cuddyer has followed up an injury-filled, career-worst year by hitting .214/.263/.314. Carlos Gomez has made the spring-training articles touting his new-found patience look silly by hitting .195 while striking out more often than last season and drawing three walks in 44 trips to the plate. Delmon Young has hit .255/.300/.340 with the same combination of bad defense, zero plate discipline, and tons of grounders.

Gardenhire scoffed at the notion of playing Mauer some at designated hitter, explaining that he’s having enough trouble as is finding at-bats for the outfielders, but against tough right-handed pitchers it would make plenty of sense to start Mauer at DH and Kubel in left field while benching two of Gomez, Young, and Cuddyer. In that scenario Gomez needs to be playing behind the extreme fly-ball starters (Perkins, Slowey, Scott Baker), although judging from Gardenhire’s comments, it’s seemingly a moot point.

Morales was behind the plate for two out of three games in Cleveland, including getting the start over Mike Redmond against left-hander Aaron Laffey Sunday. Based on their track records Redmond should be playing against basically all southpaws, but that didn’t stop Morales from going 4-for-4 while the rest of the starters managed just two hits. Counting his injury-shortened 2007 cameo appearance, Morales is now 15-for-35 (.429) with four doubles as a major leaguer.

Henry Sanchez‘s path to bustdom is just about complete after the 22-year-old former first-round pick received a 50-game suspension over the weekend following a second positive drug test. As the 39th overall pick in the 2005 draft, Sanchez was billed as an elite power hitter coming out of high school and may have been the largest first-rounder of all time at about 260 pounds, but he’s struggled with weight problems and injuries while hitting just .216/.297/.358 in 91 games between rookie-ball and Single-A.

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