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Twins need a bat

Minnesota has to hit better to stay

in contention

MINNEAPOLIS — In the first two games of the Toronto Blue Jays series, the Minnesota Twins needed a big hit late to win.

Manager Ron Gardenhire looked down the bench at his injury-depleted team and really didn’t have many options.

On Monday, down 8-5 with runners on first and second and two outs, he sent up Luis Rodriguez — a .177 hitter with one home run this season — to strike the big blow. Predictably, Rodriguez grounded out to second to end the game.

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On Tuesday, with the game tied and the bases loaded in the 12th inning, Gardenhire went to veteran Jeff Cirillo, who couldn’t start the game because his two gimpy knees made it hard to walk on the Metrodome turf.

The scene wasn’t exactly reminiscent of a hobbled Kirk Gibson limping up to the plate and hitting the game-winning homer for the Dodgers against Oakland in the 1988 World Series, but Cirillo’s Texas Leaguer did get the job done.

Nevertheless, the Twins are in a dire situation. Justin Morneau’s injury has shown that they are teetering on the edge every time they take the field. One fluke collision at home plate, one bad hop on a chopped-up infield in Detroit or one unfortunate bounce of a foul ball off a foot of one of the few sluggers the Twins have, and they are in trouble.

So if the Twins want to return to the postseason this year, there seems to this reporter to be two solutions:

1. Join the National League. Fans in the senior circuit always whine about how the American League’s designated hitter rule has tarnished the game, removing much of the strategy and taking away from the advantage of having an athletic pitcher who can swing the bat.

It would make sense for the Twins. Heck, they hardly use the DH as it is. The team has used all sorts of players in the DH spot this year, and combined they are hitting .245 with two homers and 30 RBIs.

So why not jump ship to the NL, where Johan Santana can bat every fifth day? He’s hitting .286 this season with a triple and an RBI in seven at-bats, so imagine what he could do if he got a rhythm going.

Hmmmm, wait a second. While doing some fact-checking mid-story, a baseball source who requested anonymity tells me that a team can’t change leagues in the middle of the season.

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Well, I guess it’s on to Plan B then.

2. Go get a bat!

A trade would do it

Make a trade to acquire a professional hitter who can slide into the DH spot and hit some home runs for you.

The Twins pride themselves on playing the game the right way, manufacturing runs and going to the opposite field — like they did Tuesday night in a 2-1 win over the Jays. But there’s no substitute for a big ol’ bopper in the middle of the order.

And before you go into shock at the prospect of shelling out some cash, Mr. Pohlad, I’m not saying you need to grab a big gun like Jim Thome or Ken Griffey, Jr.

Any serviceable veteran with a little pop will do. Look at the wonders Matt Stairs has worked for the Blue Jays this year. He was signed to come off the bench, and injuries have forced him into the everyday lineup where he has hit 12 homers.

Last year, it was Frank Thomas who signed a contract for pennies on the dollar and crushed 39 homers for the A’s.

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Those are two exceptional stories, but if the Twins could even get their hands on a guy like Ty Wigginton, who has 13 homers and is making a modest $2.7 million, it would be a nice boost to an offense that needs one.

As much as the everyday lineup needs a guy like Wigginton, his addition would be a boon to the bench as well.

It would allow Gardenhire to keep Mike Redmond in his holster rather than using him at DH on most days that he doesn’t catch. That way, late in games, when the Twins need a hit and Nick Punto is on deck, Gardenhire can go to Redmond, who started Wednesday hitting .295 and is one of the better clutch hitters on the roster.

General manager Terry Ryan has said he likes the makeup of this club; that it reminds him of the team that made such a remarkable run last year from 121⁄2 games back to win the team’s fourth AL Central title in five seasons.

A man as accomplished as Ryan deserves the benefit of the doubt, but to expect another run as breathtaking and magical as that one seems to me a bit presumptuous.

The Twins woke up Wednesday morning down 51⁄2 games to Cleveland and Detroit in the division. Both teams have flaws, but the Tigers will be dangerous if they ever get healthy.

That means it’s time for Ryan to be proactive. And if it means having to part with a talented young pitcher in the minors, as long as his name isn’t Matt Garza, then so be it.

Jon Krawczynski is a Minnesota Associated Press sports writer

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