MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — In the sunshine of spring training, fresh-start excitement emanates from all major leagues teams.

The Twins fire up the optimism earlier than that, even in the frozen dark of a January morning in Minnesota. Their annual winter caravan began on Monday, with manager Ron Gardenhire in the first group to go out.

“You start talking baseball and you get to see all the players, and it kind of gets you really pumped up for it,” Gardenhire said. “And you get excited to get down there and get going again. We have a lot to prove and a lot to do.”

Gardenhire joined new bench coach Terry Steinbach, middle infielder Brian Dozier, television announcer Dick Bremer and a handful of other Twins employees at the K-TWIN radio station studio across the street from Target Field. With a cup of coffee in his hand, Gardenhire was his usual joking, jovial offseason self. He recounted his recent travels, including motor-home trips to Oklahoma and California with his wife and mother.

“I found out what DEF is: diesel exhaust fluid,” Gardenhire said. “And if you run out of it, your engine stops. I didn’t run out, but it was flashing. I’m going, ‘What … is this?'”

The Twins, coming off consecutive finishes of 99 and 96 losses, are counting on a smoother ride in 2013. Gardenhire is in the final year of his contract, with notable improvement by the team likely necessary for him to be retained.

But as the 12th-year manager prepared to get on a luxury bus for a four-day journey around southern Minnesota, northern Iowa and eastern South Dakota, he said his enthusiasm wasn’t deterred by a club currently in developmental mode.

“You’re always teaching them, and it’s a constant. They’ll tell you, ‘You never stop learning the game,'” Gardenhire said.

This ritual of reconnecting with fans over five states is designed to stir interest in the upcoming season, and that’s a harder sell for the Twins these days. But with a revamped coaching staff, a rotation that will likely be 80 percent new and the probability of significant roles for some of the organization’s top prospects, there are plenty of potential reasons to follow this team, even if the playoffs don’t appear to be a realistic goal.

Gardenhire lamented the loss of outfielders Denard Span and Ben Revere in separate trades, but that was the price required to fetch some front-line starting pitching. Alex Meyer and Trevor May aren’t part of the plans for this year, but Vance Worley, also acquired from Philadelphia for Revere, is. Free-agent signings Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey are also slotted in with Scott Diamond, their closest to a staff ace last season.

“We can score runs. We just needed to stay in the games a little bit longer, and hopefully that’s what we’ve accomplished. We’ll see,” Gardenhire said.

The Twins also aimed to give Gardenhire some more support, so they hired two former players, Steinbach and hitting coach Tom Brunansky, as part of a staff shakeup that left only pitching coach Rick Anderson returning to the same job. Steinbach will work closely with the catchers. That can’t hurt the team’s beleaguered starting pitching, which ranked third-to-last in the majors last year with a 4.77 ERA.

“I enjoyed, when I was catching, the mental part of the game. Game calling, setting up hitters and going with your gut feeling and trying to pick up on what the hitter might be tipping off, what they’re trying to do, what the situation is,” Steinbach said, adding: “I just think that there’s things the catchers can look for and pick up on and hopefully try to work that guy.”

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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