Notes: Hunter honored with Gold Glove
Center fielder excited to follow in mentor Puckett's footsteps
MINNEAPOLIS -- One time during every home Twins game, Torii Hunter takes a moment out of his day to look up at the Kirby Puckett banner hanging in the upper deck and reflects on the time the two spent together before Puckett's untimely passing.But Thursday, Hunter took more than just a few peaks at the banner considering the special significance of the day. That's because before Thursday's game against the Devil Rays, Hunter was honored with his sixth straight Gold Glove Award. It's a feat that only one Twins player had accomplished before him -- Puckett. "Every time somebody says six consecutive Gold Gloves, the first thing that comes to my mind is Kirby," Hunter said. "Kirby used to always tell me, 'Man, you're going to be a good defensive player and a good outfielder,' and he'd say, 'but you won't ever be better than me.' He'd always say that jokingly. So to be able to catch up with him in Gold Gloves, I wish he could be here to see it." Just how much Puckett was on Hunter's mind was evident by his decision to invite Puckett's son, Kirby Puckett Jr., to deliver the ceremonial first pitch which Hunter caught behind home plate. Accomplishing the same feat as his mentor was something that Hunter admitted he never really thought much about when he first started his career. After all, he looked at Puckett as an icon and not someone who he felt he could compete with for awards. "He was somebody I wanted to be like, so you never think you can be better or match up with a guy like that," Hunter said. "You just wanted to be somewhere around that. I never thought I would have six Gold Gloves, just the same as the great Kirby Puckett. So it's definitely an honor, and I'm excited, but I'm looking to pass that." While each of the awards has been an honor for Hunter, his most recent Gold Glove might just be little more special than the others. That's in part due because Hunter was making his highlight-reel catches on a left ankle that still wasn't 100 percent after having been broken just the season before. "I felt like I was probably 90 percent," Hunter said of his health last season. "It was painful, but I still went out there and I played. Whenever you're running after a ball, you don't really think about the ankle until after you catch the ball because your adrenaline takes over. But after every time I caught the ball, it was usually a little sore. "This year I feel good. I'm stealing. I'm able to hit a little better. I'm able to get better jumps in the outfield, so I'm looking forward to getting the next one." Hunter's award was the first of four to be given on the weekend, as the Twins are planning to honor Justin Morneau with his MVP Award, Johan Santana with his Cy Young and Joe Mauer with his batting title. To have all four awards on one team is something the group of players admits is a rare feat and why the club is trying to celebrate the achievement by making it a weekend-long celebration. "For the Cy Young, MVP, batting champion, and a Gold Glove on one team -- that's pretty impressive," Hunter said. "That's why we took pictures of it, because it might never happen again. Nobody can recall that. They can recall everything else, but they can't recall that. That's something special." Added help: Glen Perkins arrived at the Twins clubhouse early on Thursday afternoon, and said he was ready to take on any role that the team wanted for him. The left-hander got the call just the night before to come to Minnesota to give the Twins another arm out of the bullpen, considering that injuries and workload had limited the 'pen. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said that Perkins could be used in a variety of roles, including long relief or as another left-handed specialist to help out the team's lone lefty, Dennys Reyes. "It will just be whenever we need him, like the rest of the guys," Gardenhire said of the role. "We could use him in a lot of different ways." Just one night after a game where the bullpen situation could only be described as dire with Matt Guerrier and Joe Nathan being the only two pitchers truly available, the Twins now have plenty of options to use in relief. Gardenhire said Reyes and Pat Neshek had rested and were available. Juan Rincon was also back after missing Wednesday's night game due to the passing of his mother-in-law. "One night makes a big difference," Gardenhire said of the situation. One pitcher the Twins still won't have for at least another day is right-hander Jesse Crain. He has been battling a sore shoulder, and the doctors have told the club to let Crain rest for at least a few days. Another day: Jason Bartlett got his second day off in a row due to a sore groin. In Bartlett's absence, Alexi Casilla got his second consecutive start at shortstop. Much has been made of Bartlett's recent struggles both at the plate and in the field, but Gardenhire said the decision to rest Bartlett again came down to the injury. "I thought about it last night and decided to give him another day here -- just to make sure the leg is good," Gardenhire said. "He's doing a lot of work. We'll let Casilla play again, give him another refresher day and he'll go back at it tomorrow if everything feels good." Bartlett said his groin felt a lot better Thursday, and he could have played without any problem. But he admitted having an extra day probably would end up being the best decision. Quotable: "The guy said we have a heated field so it should melt the snow," -- Gardenhire, referring on how the team will fare without a roof on the team's ballpark that is set to open in 2010. The new ballpark design was unveiled on Thursday. Coming up: The Twins will host the Devil Rays for Game 2 of a four-game set Friday in a 7:10 p.m. CT start. The contest will feature a matchup of two exciting left-handers, as Santana is set to pitch for Minnesota and Scott Kazmir will get the start for Tampa Bay.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.