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Eric Peterson, Published January 17 2012

Tough season still smarts for Twins as winter caravan makes stop in Fargo

Fargo - Twins manager Ron Gardenhire still finds it hard to forget last season – the injuries, winning an American League low 63 games and finishing last the division.

“It’s one of those that sticks in your craw pretty good,” Gardenhire said. “It’s not something that you can just get away from. A lot of things happened last year. As a manager, you want to be able to figure those things out, try to make it work no matter what or who you have on the field.”

The Minnesota Twins winter caravan made its annual stop in Fargo, with Gardenhire joined by pitchers Glen Perkins and Brian Duensing and new radio play-by-play broadcaster Cory Provus.

The Twins are coming off a season that saw their former league MVPs – catcher Joe Mauer and first baseman Justin Morneau – play in 82 and 69 games, respectively.

Another vital player, center fielder Denard Span, played in just 70 games last season.

Mauer had a knee issue last season after a surgery prior to that season.

“I don’t worry about Mauer,” Gardenhire said. “I think Mauer is going to be just fine. He is working out down in Florida, he’s doing great. He’s feels great. No surgeries.”

While both are doing great now, Gardenhire said is more concerned with Morneau and Span. They both missed time with concussions.

“Dealing with a concussion is something that none of us really have any experience at,” Gardenhire said.

Gardenhire said the plan is to keep Mauer at catcher and Morneau at first base. Gardenhire added he is willing to be flexible to keep both of his star players on the field. That means Morneau could see time at designated hitter and Mauer at first base.

“If it doesn’t work out and it looks like that’s going to be a problem where I can’t keep him in, we’ll play him at first base,” Gardenhire said of Mauer. “We’re going to make it work. The biggest thing is to get them both on the field.”

Gardenhire expects Mauer will have a bounce-back season. Mauer batted a career-low .287 in 2011. The 28-year-old is a career .323 hitter.

“This guy is one of the best players in the game and he’ll be that again this year. That is my belief,” Gardenhire said. “I think this was a good thing for Joe. He took a hit. He got beat up a little bit in the press and he got beat up by a few people. He’s a fighter. He will come back better.”

Perkins, a left-handed reliever, is one of the few Twins coming off of a strong season. Perkins went 4-4 with a 2.48 ERA with two saves and 17 holds. He made 65 appearances.

“I think best word for our year, in a way, was embarrassing,” Perkins said. “I think we went out there some games and really did embarrass ourselves and that’s the worst feeling in the world.”

While Perkins had strong numbers out of the bullpen, Gardenhire said he plans to keep right-hander Matt Capps in the closing role. Capps was 4-7 with a 4.25 ERA a season ago.

Perkins will be one of the team’s top set-up men.

“I love where I pitched last year, and if I do that the rest of my career, I’d be happy,” Perkins said. “I like where I’m at, and I would like to stay there.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found at peterson.areavoices.com