ST. PETERSBURG -- Suffice it to say Alex Burnett has put his rocky Spring Training behind him.
The 24-year-old reliever hasn't allowed a run in his first 8 1/3 innings of work this season, displaying excellent control following a spring in which he posted a 6.97 ERA and 2.23 WHIP in 10 1/3 innings.
Burnett has given up eight hits so far -- three of which came in his two innings on Thursday night in New York -- and only one walk with four strikeouts. He worked his way out of two jams on Thursday, inducing two inning-ending double plays in the sixth and seventh innings.
"He's throwing the ball very well. He got himself in a little bit of a mess [on Thursday], but I thought he pitched out of it," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He made some pitches when he had to."
Burnett made several adjustments on the mound that may have contributed to his unimpressive spring statistics, and perhaps contributing to his early season success. He changed sides of the rubber, focused more on pitching to the outer half of the plate and worked on his slide-stepping. With most of his attention directed toward tweaking his mechanics, Gardenhire suggested, it was a little harder to focus on his pitches.
"The ball's coming out of his hand. He's using his pitches better," said Gardenhire. "His fastball's really good right now; it's jumping up on people pretty good. After the terrible spring he had, and he was working on some things, he's actually throwing the ball pretty good. We need him. We need him to get some big outs for us.
"We'll see if he can maintain it."
Morneau sits out Friday's game
ST. PETERSBURG -- Justin Morneau was held out of the Twins' lineup on Friday night. He is dealing with some pain after taking a foul ball off his right foot on Thursday night.
Morneau should be back in the lineup on Saturday, manager Ron Gardenhire said, but he didn't take batting practice before Friday's game against the Rays. Gardenhire didn't want to risk the possibility that Morneau would accidentally hit another ball off his foot and injure it any further. Morneau would have been available to pinch-hit.
"I don't want him to do anything silly here yet. That's the foot he had surgery [on]," Gardenhire said before Friday's game. "Everything's fine. He's a little frustrated, but I said, 'You just be ready to hit, get a game-winner if we need you later in the ballgame,' and he'll be ready for that. And he'll be ready to play [on Saturday]."
Morneau ran Friday afternoon and felt OK going in a straight line, but turning on his right foot was a bit more difficult. Plus, the hard turf surface at Tropicana Field is not the ideal playing environment for a player dealing with any sort of lower-body injury.
Gardenhire happy overall with Twins' defense
ST. PETERSBURG -- As a whole, manager Ron Gardenhire has been pleased with the Twins' defense through the club's first 13 games.
Gardenhire pointed to Jamey Carroll's work in the infield -- the way he makes a bullet hit his way into a routine play, how he's taken an active role in terms of communicating with his teammates and how he doesn't try to be too flashy about it.
But there's one thing Gardenhire would like to see more of from his infielders: double plays. The Twins have turned 11 on the season, better than four other American League teams. But Gardenhire thought his club has mishandled a few opportunities and missed several others by playing too deep in the infield.
"We've messed up some of these changes around the bag. We'll get better at it. They're working on it," Gardenhire said. "They go out there every day and turn double plays from third and turn double plays from second. They'll get it. ... When we start doing that, I'll be a little more comfortable -- because you can't afford, when you get those opportunities, not to turn them.
"We've got to do a better job turning double plays, but we're catching the ball better, absolutely."
Nick Blackburn threw a bullpen session on Friday afternoon and should still be on track to make his start on Tuesday. Gardenhire said the Twins won't have any reason to make a roster move before then, although they are carrying 13 pitchers on their 25-man roster.
"If he's OK, we could do something, I guess, and get another player back. I don't see any reason. We'll just go with it," Gardenhire said. "We'll see. We're not really pressing the issue with that. We're not worried about that. We've made enough roster moves. We'll ad-lib until we're forced to."
Joe Mauer entered Friday's game leading all active Major Leaguers in batting average at Tropicana Field (minimum of 75 plate appearances), hitting .433 for his career with six doubles, two triples, three home runs and 17 RBIs. His .524 on-base percentage also ranks first at the Trop, and his .716 slugging percentage is second to Travis Hafner (.759).
"It's pretty amazing to actually have good numbers here because of the pitching staff that's here. These guys have some great pitchers," Gardenhire said of the Rays. "That being said, this is a really, really fast surface. The ball buzzes through the infield, so you're not going to see a lot of range by infielders because of the fast surface. I think that leads to good batting averages here."