Twins’ Cruz bests teammate Rosario in battle of player-managers

Minnesota Twins right fielder Nelson Cruz (23) makes a catch for an out in the fourth inning of the spring training game Wednesday, March 20, against the Pittsburgh Pirates at CenturyLink Sports Complex in Fort Myers, Fla. Jasen Vinlove / USA TODAY Sports
Minnesota Twins right fielder Nelson Cruz (23) makes a catch for an out in the fourth inning of the spring training game Wednesday, March 20, against the Pittsburgh Pirates at CenturyLink Sports Complex in Fort Myers, Fla. Jasen Vinlove / USA TODAY Sports

FORT MYERS Fla. — Nelson Cruz watched as Eddie Rosario led his team in a huddle that concluded with a chant in the third-base dugout.

Cruz, managing for the day, didn’t feel the need to give his team a pregame speech of his own.

“No. We know what to do,” Cruz said. “I saw them doing (theirs). Eye wash.”

The team had some fun on Monday, March 25, letting Cruz manage Triple-A Rochester and Rosario manage the Twins. Cruz’s team came out on top, winning 5-2.

“I was replaced by a high-profile managerial candidate, and I think he did a phenomenal job out there,” first-year manager Rocco Baldelli said of Cruz. “He brought it home. The players responded really well to him.”

Each manager got to set the order of their own lineup — Rosario’s featuring most of the Twins’ regulars to start with Cruz’s featuring a mix of Twins’ bench bats and Triple-A players — and exchange lineup cards.

Cruz, when introduced as a player-manager, tipped his helmet to the crowd before his first at-bat. Both Max Kepler (Rosario) and Jake Cave (Cruz) homered in the game. Jake Odorizzi, in his final spring tune up, threw four innings and gave up one hit while walking two and striking out two. In the first inning, he was hit by a comebacker, and his skipper, Rosario, came out to check on him briefly before retreating back into the dugout.

“Eddie competed well on the other side,” Baldelli said. “He played hard. Managed hard. Went out and made sure his players were healthy and feeling OK. He was on point all day. But Nelson brought it home.”

Most notably, Willians Astudillo drew a walk and stole a base in the game. Astudillo, noted for his contact skills, had not walked or struck out in a spring game all year before Monday.

“You knew it was kind of a different day out there when you see something like that,” Baldelli said. “To be honest, that was the craziest thing I saw all spring.”

The Twins approached Cruz and Rosario with the idea of serving as players-managers on Monday morning. Cruz enjoyed his managing experience, though he wasn’t exactly sure how to execute a pitching change.

“The idea was not originally mine, but I was very in favor of it and the players also took ownership of it, we're excited about it and competed well during the game but had fun with it,” Baldelli said. “I think it was good for everyone.”

Polanco fatigued

Jorge Polanco has been dealing with shoulder fatigue over the past few days, but Baldelli said he thinks the shortstop is on track to break camp with the team.

Polanco hasn’t played in a major league game since Friday, but he did DH in a game on the backfields Monday. If he is not ready to break camp with the team, Ronald Torreyes could take his roster spot.

“I think it’s something in a minor way that has been affecting him at different points in the spring, but nothing that was seen as serious to keep him away from the field,” Baldelli said. “That’s kind of how I would describe it.”

Gibson staying back

Kyle Gibson will remain in Fort Myers to throw on Wednesday, a day after the team heads back to Minnesota to begin the season. He will not appear in the Cleveland series, with his first start coming against the Royals on April 1.

Gibson contracted E. Coli this offseason and is fully healthy now, but he is still working back to his ideal weight of 215 pounds. He said Friday he still wanted to gain about five pounds but strength-wise he was “really close” to where he wanted to be and his legs and arm felt good.

“Gibby’s offseason and late start definitely was part of the conversation. It definitely was not the full conversation,” Baldelli said. “Giving him a little bit of extra time was something we saw as probably a positive thing, and the way that things lined up for us combined with that kind of allowed us to make that part of the decision as well.”

Closers 'fluid'

While Blake Parker and Trevor May are both likely to see action in the ninth inning of games, the Twins are ready to leave camp with no set closer.

“I think both of those guys will accumulate some saves this year,” Baldelli said. “The point of it is, we could see either one of those guys out there very, very late in the game on Opening Day. It depends on what happens earlier in the game.”

There could be a situation in which both Parker and May are used before the ninth in high-leverage situations earlier in the game, leaving the Twins with somebody else — perhaps Taylor Rogers or Trevor Hildenberger — up in the ninth.

Baldelli said there would be a “fluidity,” to what they do with the bullpen, and it’s something they’ve addressed with the pitchers throughout camp.

“We’re going to run into situations where it might be a different guy each time depending on exactly what’s going on in a game,” Baldelli said. “Functionally, I think we win more games when we treat each situation individually.”