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MINNEAPOLIS -— With his name penciled into the starting lineup on Friday, Michael Saunders was more than happy to be done discussing his sore left knee.

Saunders hadn’t started a game since injuring the knee in the fourth inning of last Saturday’s game.

It was a frustrating injury, since he’d been playing his best baseball of the season.

Feel good?

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“Yes, I’m ready to go,” he said.

Can you go full speed running and cutting?

“Yep,” he said.

No pain?

“None,” he replied. “I’m ready to go.”

Before Saunders injured the knee, he was batting leadoff and having success. But with the call-up of speedy outfielder James Jones, manager Lloyd McClendon decided to move Saunders to the No. 2 spot in the order.

Will that change anything at all in his approach?

“I think it depends more on the pitcher and how guys typically get you out,” he said. “I’ve heard throughout the years that hitting behind the leadoff guy you are going to see more fastballs. Personally, I don’t believe that. I believe how pitchers have been getting you out is how you are going to get pitched. Their main concern is getting the guy out at the plate.

“Now that being said, a guy like Jones gets on first, he’s a threat to steal, so you might see maybe another fastball here or there. I really feel like they’re going to pitch to their strengths and to your weaknesses.”

The guy hitting behind him — Robinson Cano — might make more of a difference in the pitches he sees than the guy in front of him.

“Absolutely,” Saunders said. “I might see more fastballs because of him. I don’t think they want to walk me to get to him.”

Bartender is back

Tom Wilhelmsen hasn’t allowed a run in his last nine appearances (111
3 innings pitched) and has struck out 13 batters and walked just four in that time.

He’s looked dominating at times, pitching in a set-up role.

“He’s throwing better,” McClendon said. “He’s throwing more strikes. I just think the fact that he’s in the zone a lot more and not working behind in the count as much. He’s got a lot of weapons, and he throws 97. But when you are behind in the count and you are forced to use the fastball, hitters don’t care how hard you throw.”


• McClendon admitted that his two angry hat tosses — one onto the field and the other into the crowd — in Sunday’s game after he was ejected left their mark.

“I can feel it a little bit in my shoulder,” he said, chuckling.

Logan Morrison, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker are all on the trip to continue their rehab work from their respective injuries.

Paxton (strained latissimus dorsi) will throw a two-inning simulated game on Saturday at Target Field. Morrison (strained hamstring) will be one of a handful of hitters participating in the sim game.

Walker (shoulder impingement) will throw a 40-pitch bullpen Sunday.

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