'Gardy' taking some heat

Some critics questioning Twins' skipper

Knight-Ridder Newspapers


The addition Wednesday of Shannon Stewart might provide a boost to the Twins' sagging lineup, but the former Toronto Blue Jays leadoff hitter with a .300 career batting average can't cure everything that ails the Twins this season.

If the trade for a veteran shakes some life into the clubhouse, that's a start. But he can't pitch, doesn't hit a lot of home runs, is a mediocre fielder, and although he is expected to be a positive clubhouse influence, he's not a classic, vocal leader.


Whether the Twins can make up enough ground in their final 69 games to salvage a season after a lost first half will depend more on what the 24 other players do, especially the pitchers. And what answers the manager can find that eluded him in the first half.

"It's been very, very tough,'' manager Ron Gardenhire said of the Twins' 44-49 start to a season that has included 22 losses in their past 28 games. "You don't sleep at night because you're trying to find ways to make this thing click.''

Things have turned downward so fast and so dramatically since the Twins' trip to the American League Championship Series last October, with largely the same roster, that Gardenhire has taken heat for decisions and nondecisions alike in his second year as a big-league manager.

Why did he wait so long to put Johan Santana into the rotation? Why didn't he bring Justin Morneau up from the minors sooner? Why didn't he send Morneau to the minors when Morneau hit a slump three weeks ago? How can he put up with the uninspired and inconsistent play of his middle infielders? How could he bench shortstop Cristian Guzman in such a key and ultimately competitive series at Anaheim last weekend?

If it sounds as if he can't win, that's probably because his team can't. And the reasons don't seem to matter.

"Gardy's taking a lot of (heat), and it should be the players,'' catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "He's not out there pitching and trying to hit the ball and catch the ball... . We need to go back and look in the mirror.''

Gardenhire has the support of players and his boss, general manager Terry Ryan, who will decide by the end of the year whether to exercise the 2004 option on the manager's contract.

"Hell, he's doing everything he can within his power to try to get this thing turned around,'' Ryan said. "He sat some guys, tried to discipline some guys, tried to motivate some guys. He can do only so much. He's trying. I know it's been very frustrating for anybody associated with this club.''


What Gardenhire hasn't had until the Stewart trade was a veteran hitter with a five-year track record of success. What he still doesn't have is a starting pitcher besides the newly anointed Santana (4-2, 3.00) with an earned-run average under 4.75, or a starter besides Santana or Kenny Rogers (7-5) with a winning record. Or a way to shield the overworked bullpen from a veteran rotation of all-stars who have regularly had trouble pitching five innings.

"The first year was pretty easy,'' Gardenhire said. "You knew it wasn't going to be like that every year. That's just not the way the game is. You learn from these things.

Until the Stewart trade, Gardenhire seemed to exhaust every possible mix and combination of a lineup that slumped in spots or in its entirety throughout the first 31⁄2; months of the season, and to exhaust every conceivable motivational tool in the clubhouse -- from pats on the back, to kicks in the tail, to meetings and benchings and lots and lots of extra work.

"I can handle things. I can handle criticism,'' Gardenhire said. "I understand that's part of it. I took this job knowing that. I've been around a long time. I've seen other managers. I've seen T.K. (Tom Kelly) get it. If you can't live with that, you're not going to be able to stay in this business very long.''

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