FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Ron Gardenhire was asked if he'd thought about what the Minnesota Twins' starting rotation could do if it stayed healthy the entire season.
"I don't know," Gardenhire deadpanned. "I've never had that as a manager."
He's right -- three-fifths of Minnesota's starting pitchers missed at least a month last year and the other two fought through a few nagging injuries themselves.
If Brad Radke, Eric Milton, Joe Mays, Rick Reed and Kyle Lohse can all reach 200 innings, this figures to be one of the best groups in baseball.
All have been All-Stars except Lohse, who was 5-3 with a 3.04 ERA after the All-Star break last year.
"It'd be nice if we all stick together and be healthy this year," Lohse said. "Obviously we have high expectations coming off last year."
If there's one thing that can temper that enthusiasm, it's surgery. Milton (knee), Lohse (knee) and Mays (elbow) are all in various stages of recovery from it.
All three of them threw bullpen sessions on Monday -- the first official day of workouts for pitchers and catchers -- without any problems. Radke did, too, but Reed was in Ohio with a sick child.
Lohse and Milton are being held out of some of the running drills for now, and Milton walked off with a little bit of a limp after throwing.
It could be the company line, but everyone says they're fine.
"It's getting fairly strong," Lohse said of his right knee, which was cleaned out in December. "I'm being careful not to aggravate it."
"It feels fine," Milton said of his left knee. "I can definitely pitch through it."
"I feel very healthy," Mays said. "Shoulder, elbow, body. Feels great."
The Twins truly had a rotation last season, using four different pitchers to fill in during the absences of Mays, Radke and Milton. Santana was outstanding last year (7-5, 3.24 in 14 starts) and can be called upon again if someone goes down, but he's needed to help set up Eddie Guardado in the bullpen.
The fact that Santana already has been relegated to a relief role shows how.
"We're very happy with our baseball team, but we know we have to be healthy," Gardenhire said.
If there's a concern, it's with Milton's knee. He missed a month late in the season after surgery to repair a meniscus tear and has developed some swelling after he's done with his workouts. As a power pitcher, he pushes hard off that knee in his windup.
"These guys are making more out of it than I want to be made out of it," Milton said. "I just want to go out there and do my job. I'm obviously concerned about the swelling. A little aching and tenderness, but everything's strong. It's just nagging a little bit. I have no problems throwing the ball over the plate and throwing strikes."
Mays' 2002 season was the most disrupted. He was out for three months with inflammation around his elbow before returning for the stretch run and the playoffs; he had bone chips removed from the joint in November.
Sometimes his shoulder would act up during his offseason throwing regimen, and it wasn't until Monday -- thanks to some time spent the night before studying a 2001 videotape of his mechanics -- that he felt like his motion was completely up to speed. "Today felt right," he said. "It was a good sign."
Radke, who missed more than two months with a groin pull last year, hit the weights harder this winter and looks ready to go. Reed missed a few starts with minor ailments last season but should be fine once he returns to camp in the next couple days.
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