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USA TODAY Sports Minnesota catcher Josmil Pinto singles in the fourth inning of a spring training game against the Toronto Blue Jays on March 8 at Florida Auto Exchange Park in Dunedin, Fla.

Twins' backup catcher situation still up in the air

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The Minnesota Twins are not quite sure what to do with rookie catcher Josmil Pinto.

Veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki was signed as a free agent over the winter after the Twins announced six-time All-Star catcher Joe Mauer would move to first base. Suzuki will get a significant amount of paying time.

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The question now is whether the Twins can also find enough starts behind the plate for Pinto. If not, then the 24-year-old will be optioned to Triple-A Rochester, where he will continue his development.

“I don’t have a problem with him splitting time with Suzuki. That could be part of his development,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Learning process, catch some on the side. Match him with certain pitchers that look good when they work together. He can develop that way, too. He doesn’t have to be an everyday guy, I wouldn’t put it like that.”

Pinto showed well offensively last September when he was called up to the major leagues for the first time and batted .342 with four home runs in 21 games. He had gone 5-for-11 (.455) with a double this spring through games as of March 14.

However, Pinto is not as strong defensively and that could lead to the Twins keeping Eric Fryer or Chris Herrmann as the backup catcher.

“The second catcher we’ll discuss as we go along,” Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony said. “I don’t think we’ve finalized it. We all have different thoughts and opinions on that. We’ll sit down and figure that out at the end.”

The Twins are looking for a right-handed hitter with power to balance a lefty-leaning lineup but Gardenhire said Pinto is not in the running for at-bats as the designated hitter.

“I’m not looking for a DH candidate in a catcher, I’ve already been (on) that route,” Gardenhire said, referring to Ryan Doumit, who was traded to the Atlanta Braves in the offseason. “I need two catchers. If I have that then I’m going to need three catchers and I don’t want to do that.”

Notes, quotes

n LHP Glen Perkins, who had a career-high 36 saves and a 2.30 ERA last season, signed a four-year contract extension worth $22.175 million. Perkins restructured the first two years of the deal as he will now have salaries of $4.025 million this season and $4.65 million in 2015 rather than $4.975 million and $3.75 million. The club option for 2016 was eliminated and the St. Paul, Minn., native will be guaranteed $6.3 million that year and $6.5 million in 2017. The revised contract also includes a $6.5 million club option for 2018 with a $700,000 buyout.

n RHP Ricky Nolasco was chosen to start the opener March 31 against the White Sox at Chicago. The news was hardly a surprise after the Twins signed Nolasco to a four-year, $49-million deal in the offseason, the largest contract ever given to a free agent by the franchise. Nolasco twice started opening day for the Miami Marlins.

n SS Pedro Florimon played in a minor league game Friday. It was the first game action of the spring for Florimon, who underwent an appendectomy three weeks earlier. He is expected to be the starting shortstop again this season after hitting .221 with nine home runs in 134 games last year.

n OF/DH Jason Kubel started off 2-for-21 (.095) in exhibition play in his bid to win a spot on the roster after singing a minor league contract as a free agent in the offseason. That comes after Kubel hit just .216 with five home runs in 97 games last season with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Cleveland Indians. He spent the first seven seasons of his nine-year with the Twins and still has manager Ron Gardenhire’s faith. “He can click on a baseball,” Gardenhire said. “We know that.”

n CF Alex Presley was considered the favorite to be the starting center fielder and leadoff hitter coming into spring training. However, he struggled in Grapefruit League play this season, hitting .167 (4-for-24) with eight strikeouts through games as of March 14. Presley was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates last Aug. 31 in a trade for 1B Justin Morneau and batted .283 with one home run in 28 games.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I believe in what we’re doing here and I wanted to be a part of that. I’m thankful to (the Twins) for even broaching the subject on something they weren’t required to do,” — Perkins after signing his extension.

Roster report

PROJECTED ROTATION:

RHP Ricky Nolasco

RHP Phil Hughes

RHP Kevin Correia

RHP Mike Pelfrey

RHP Sam Deduno

Pelfrey should be improved this season, as he came on strong at the end of last season. The staff in general looks better, but Hughes and Nolasco need to prove they have enough left to lead the staff.

The Twins are missing a left-handed starter and Scott Diamond, last season slated to be the opening day starter until he suffered an injury, will be working to bust into the rotation.

More than anything, the staff will need to do better than last season pitching late into games, and no one knows that more than the manager: “The way to protect your bullpen is by your starters going deep in the game and not having to eat up all those innings they ate up last year,” Gardenhire said. “We need depth in our starters. That’s why we went out and signed some guys we believe can (go deep in games).”

PROJECTED BULLPEN:

LHP Caleb Thielbar

RHP Anthony Swarzak

LHP Brian Duensing

RHP Casey Fien

RHP Jared Burton

LHP Glen Perkins

The Twins bullpen, arguably the strongest unit on the club, looks to be intact after another decent season. They were taxed in 2013 due to a weak starting rotation at times, but still fared well. Thielbar, who came up midseason and was a surprise addition, should slide into the spot vacated by Jeff Roenicke, who was sent outright to Class A Rochester during the offseason. Although Michael Tonkin, who came up late and pitched well, may have something to say about that before spring training if over.

Closer Glen Perkins had 36 saves in 61 appearances (62 2/3 innings) last season and has solidified himself in that role. He returns to once again lead the staff in hopes that the Twins starters will allow fans to see more of Perkins in save situations and less of the middle relievers pitching extended innings.

PROJECTED LINEUP:

1. CF Alex Presley

2. 2B Brian Dozier

3. 1B Joe Mauer

4. LF Josh Willingham

5. RF Oswaldo Arcia

6. DH Jason Kubel

7. 3B Trevor Plouffe

8. C Kurt Suzuki or Josmil Pinto

9. SS Pedro Florimon

The Twins’ lineup is still a work in progress as the team struggles to identify a consistent and productive leadoff hitter. Presley grabbed the role late in the 2013 season after coming over in the Justin Morneau trade, and he will likely begin there in 2014.

Dozier, who had several stints in the leadoff spot last season, is a better hitter in the two-spot and the Twins are hoping to bat him there, with Mauer returning to his natural third spot. Since Mauer is no longer catching (where the changing out of catching equipment prevented him from batting leadoff or second in the past), the team could experiment with him in the one and two spots this season.

The team will need better power numbers this year, and a healthy Willingham (who had midseason knee surgery last year) should help. The team will want to see another step forward from Arcia, who demonstrated great power last year, but struck out too often (117 strike outs in 351 at bats).

Likewise, the Twins are hoping that the return of Kubel will translate into some improved power numbers for the team, but it remains to be seen if his better days are behind him.

TOP ROOKIES: In addition to OF Byron Buxton and 3B Miguel Sano, who should make a splash this spring, RHP Alex Meyer may be ready to make the next step. The 6-foot-9 Meyer, 24, was 4-3 with a 2.99 ERA last year in the minors, and he was invited to spring training. RHP Trevor May is another young arm the Twins are waiting to make a move. He was a disappointing 9-9 with a 4.51 ERA in Double-A last season, but with another year of experience pitching his mid-90s fastball, May will be battling for a promotion this spring.

SS Danny Santana could make some noise by pushing incumbent shortstop Pedro Florimon this spring. Playing in the Double-A Eastern league, Santana compiled a .297/.333/.386 line with two home runs, 10 triples and 33 stolen bases. He is on the 40-man roster and will be looking for an upgrade.

MEDICAL WATCH:

n 3B Miguel Sano (elbow) underwent Tommy John surgery March 12 in New York. He is expected to miss the 2014 season. Sano will remain in New York for a few days after the surgery and then report to Fort Myers, Fla., to begin his eight-month rehabilitation program.

n RHP Matt Guerrier, who is coming off surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in August, is being brought along slowly in spring training. He threw live batting practice March 5 and had a bullpen session at camp March 7. He made his spring debut March 11 by pitching one scoreless inning in an intrasquad game.

n SS Pedro Florimon underwent successful laparoscopic surgery to remove an inflamed appendix Feb. 17. He left the hospital Feb. 18 and was scheduled to have two weeks off in recovery and then start working his way back into spring training activities. On Feb. 26, he rode a stationary bike. On March 14, he saw his first game action by playing in a minor league exhibition.

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