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By Dustin Monke / Forum Communications Co., Published January 18 2011

MLB: Twins start annual caravan stops

Drew Butera got his foot in the Minnesota Twins’ door last season. Now, the 27-year-old catcher wants to kick it open.

Butera batted .197 and played in 49 games as a rookie last season but said Monday he is working to make improvements to his overall game to increase both of those numbers in the 2011 season.

Butera joined Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, hitting coach Joe Vavra, pitcher Jeff Manship, and radio personality Kris Atteberry for a 40-minute stop at the Prairie Hills Mall on the first day of the team’s Winter Caravan tour.

The backup to Joe Mauer and battery mate for starter Carl Pavano said he has been working with a trainer in the offseason.

“I’ve got a personal trainer and he’s kicking my butt every day,” Butera said. “It’s really just getting into baseball shape – some running, hitting and throwing. I’ve been working on my swing a lot, trying to stay up the middle and go the other way.”

While being a spot starter and a consistent backup to Mauer last season helped Butera gain a foothold in the Twins’ organization, his numbers at the plate didn’t make his season look like much of a success.

Butera hit two homers with 13 RBI and knows he must improve to give the team more consistency when Mauer – a career .327 hitter – isn’t in the lineup.

“For me, not seeing a pitch every day, it’s tough for timing. I think the adjustments that I’m making in the offseason will definitely help my timing,” Butera said. “In my position, throw the averages out the window. Anything I can do to help the team win, as far as moving a guy over, a bunt, or drive a guy in every once in a while. That’s what I’m working on.”

Gardenhire said he expects Butera to continue progressing in all aspects this season, and believes he has already established himself as a steady presence behind the plate.

“Drew is solidifying himself as a solid backup major league catcher,” Gardenhire said. “Once you get your foot in the door, you’ve got to get it done and he did. He does super. He calls a great ball game. Obviously, we’ll continue to work on his hitting and do those things. But as far as catching and calling a ball game, he’s handled that very, very well. Our pitchers love throwing to him.”

One of those pitchers is Manship.

The middle reliever who appeared in 13 games and started one in the 2010 season, is hoping this is the year he finds a consistent place in the Twins’ pitching staff.

“There’s a lot of open spots right now, a lot of open roles, so I feel I can rise to the occasion, play well in spring training and earn one of those roles,” said Manship, who turned 26 on Sunday. “I was happy with my year up until my last three or four outings and I kind of fell off a bit. There’s some games last year I can definitely build off of, look back on it and see what I did and go off that.”

During a question-and-answer with fans, Manship talked about his hopes of earning a spot in the bullpen.

“I’d fold towels just to be there,” he said. “So any role I could get really. I’d love to start, be in the bullpen, wherever I could help.”

The Twins have experienced a lot of turnover in the bullpen this offseason and Gardenhire believes Manship has the tools to settle into a roster spot if he performs well during spring training.

“He can come in and spin the ball,” Gardenhire said. “The one thing about him is he doesn’t overpower hitters, but he can throw breaking balls. He can really change speeds with the ball a lot and that’s important. He’s been super for us the last couple years and it’s another big year for him coming into spring training.”

The Twins’ pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training on Feb. 16. They open on Feb. 27 against the Boston Red Sox in Fort Meyers, Fla.

Minnesota opens the season April 1 with a three-game series at Toronto followed by a four-game series at the New York Yankees. The Twins play the Oakland Athletics on April 8 in their Target Field opener.

One of the Twins’ biggest tasks before returning to the field next month is resigning Pavano.

Butera took the time in front of the microphone Monday to make a request to the veteran pitcher after fans asked Gardenhire and the players about the team’s pitching staff.

“I’d really like for Carl to come back, because that means I get to play every once and a while,” Butera said to a roar of laughter.

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Monke writes for the Dickinson Press.