Archive for Saturday, February 23, 2008

Twins count on Morneau for bigger clubhouse role

February 23, 2008

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Derrek Lee is happy hitting anywhere in the Chicago Cubs' lineup, and Joba Chamberlain is ready to be a starter or reliever for the New York Yankees.

Justin Morneau, however, knows exactly what his role is with Minnesota.

The 2006 AL MVP will be counted on for more than home runs and RBIs now that Torii Hunter, Johan Santana and Carlos Silva are gone. The Twins have a gaping hole atop the clubhouse hierarchy, and Morneau has the credentials to fill it after agreeing to an $80 million, six-year contract extension in January.

But does he have the personality to take on such leadership?

"I think those kinds of things just sort of happen," Morneau said Friday in Fort Myers, Fla. "If you work hard and play well, guys see what you're doing and follow your example.

"I don't think we need anybody right now to be in the clubhouse every morning and telling everybody what they need to be doing. The way it's always been around here is if a guy has something to say to somebody else, usually we pull them aside. We don't try to embarrass anybody in front of the group."

Lee made it clear early on at Cubs camp that he doesn't care where he bats. Chicago manager Lou Piniella plans to experiment with his batting order this spring to see where Kosuke Fukudome can best help the team. The Japanese star might hit third, a spot where he feels most comfortable.

That would mean a drop from third to fourth for Lee, the 2005 NL batting champion, and a switch from fourth to fifth for last year's team RBI leader, Aramis Ramirez.

"Whatever makes this team win games," Lee said in Mesa, Ariz.

He's had an informal discussion with batting coach Gerald Perry about the move, and Piniella said he'll talk to his first baseman about it as well.

Chamberlain threw batting practice in Tampa, Fla., for the first time this spring and said he's not worried about where he fits on the Yankees' pitching staff.

The 22-year-old right-hander, 2-0 with a 0.38 earned-run average in 19 relief appearances as a rookie last year, will likely begin this season in the bullpen before joining the rotation.

"Everything in life is uncertain," he said. "It doesn't matter to me. Just to be thought of in both aspects I think is an honor."

Even senior vice president Hank Steinbrenner took time to watch Chamberlain throw 27 pitches, taking in the session from his fourth-floor office.

"It's always fun watching Joba," Steinbrenner said.

Chamberlain's arm has already impressed new Yankees manager Joe Girardi.

"It's just explosive stuff," Girardi said. "Just a good, old-fashioned, power arm."

Nomar Garciaparra might need several gloves when he breaks camp with the Los Angeles Dodgers, though a catcher's mitt probably won't be one of them.

That's not because he can't play the position.

The 34-year-old Garciaparra is in the middle of the team's most intriguing position battle, competing for third base with 24-year-old Andy LaRoche. But Garciaparra also has been mentioned as a possible utility player because of his versatility.

Garciaparra said he's prepared to play any position.

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