Span helping Willingham get comfyFORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — Making the move from Oakland to Minnesota has been an easy one for Josh Willingham. He’s feeling comfortable in a new clubhouse and has quickly bonded with new teammates.
FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — Making the move from Oakland to Minnesota has been an easy one for Josh Willingham. He’s feeling comfortable in a new clubhouse and has quickly bonded with new teammates.
Moving from left field to right field will require a little more patience, a little more time and some help from center fielder Denard Span.
The Twins signed Willingham this winter to add some right-handed power to the lineup, a role that Michael Cuddyer filled in Minnesota for so long before leaving for a lucrative three-year deal with the Colorado Rockies. Willingham hit 29 homers and drove in 98 runs with the Athletics last season, but the 33-year-old has primarily played left field in his previous six seasons.
With Ben Revere penciled in for left field this season and Cuddyer gone to Colorado, the Twins are looking to Willingham in right.
“I haven’t started games yet so we’re going to need to get some games going out there in right and hopefully start feeling comfortable and get all the bad plays out during spring training,” Willingham said.
Span has played all three outfield positions capably for the Twins and is eager to give Willingham any advice he can.
“I was trying to give him a little confidence when I told him that I feel like right field’s easier than left field,” Span said. “That’s how I felt when I played them. I think most guys, when they played all three positions, they’ll tell you that if they could choose between left and right, they’ll choose right.”
Communication between the two is going to be key. So much has to be learned. Willingham will need to adjust to a different kind of slice off the bat than he is used to seeing, and Span will have to get to know just how much ground Willingham can cover in the spacious Target Field outfield.
To that end, manager Ron Gardenhire said that he will put the two together as much as he can this spring to give them time to get comfortable with each other.
“It’s important that those two play together and get a feel for each other and how each other covers their ground,” Gardenhire said. “They’ll get to know each other. Games played will be big for those guys, just games played along with getting to know each other. That’s what it’s all about.”
The Twins open the exhibition season on Saturday against Tampa Bay. Gardenhire has yet to announce his lineup, but there is a pretty safe bet that those two will be out there.
“That’s something only games can simulate,” Willingham said. “I know he’s fast and a great center fielder, but until we get a ball in the gap and we’re both going after it and I see how much range he has and he sees how much range I have, that’s kind of how you get to know each other as outfielders.”
Span is going through a feeling-out process of his own this spring. He played in just 70 games last season because of a concussion and has been gingerly working his way back.
He has not been limited through the first six days of workouts, but had a bit of a scare on Thursday. During a simulated game, Span ran into the fence while chasing down a fly ball and split open his lip.
“It’s definitely a good test to see how I feel tomorrow,” Span said. “I’m pretty sure if it didn’t happen today, it would happen eventually through the course of 162 games. I’m just happy it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.”
Span is still adjusting to a new diet that includes no caffeine. He said he’s felt sluggish at times and may try to find alternative energy drinks to help him get through some of these long days, but so far he hasn’t had any more concussion symptoms.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” Span said. “This is probably the most I’ve done. Even during the offseason, you work out four or five times a week and then you get the weekend to relax a little bit. This is the first two weeks in a row that I’ve done every day.”
Provided everything goes well over the next two days for Span, the real work for him and Willingham will begin on Saturday.
“I think once the games start, that’s when we’re going to get all that information from playing games and getting reps out there from being together,” Span said. “That’s the only way we’re going to be able to get a feel for each other.”