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Gardenhire fired up about turning Twins around

Nolasco, Hughes a big boost to ballclub's prospects next season

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As Ron Gardenhire surely knows, a large part of the Twins' struggles in 2013 came because of a starting rotation that ranked as the worst in baseball.

Twins starters combined to post the worst ERA in the Majors while also finishing last in strikeouts and innings pitched. That, combined with an offense that shattered the club record for strikeouts, led to another dismal year for the Twins, who lost 96 games after losing 99 in '11 and 96 in '12.

So Gardenhire was understandably excited to hear the Twins signed right-handers Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes to multiyear deals last week, and believes general manager Terry Ryan isn't done improving the club.

"We've gotten beaten up for three years now," Gardenhire said at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort on Tuesday. "You know you need pitching. We're trying to get pitching. We've done a pretty good job at this point. We're looking at position players. We said we were going to get better, and that's our goal is to get better. We started that process, but by no means is it done. We're still working hard at it."

With the Twins remaining active at the Winter Meetings and meeting with agents throughout the day, Gardenhire has enjoyed being able to sit in with Twins executives in their suite to get a feel for which players the club is interested in.

He even confirmed the Twins still have interest in free-agent right-hander Mike Pelfrey, and have made him an offer to return with the club.

"It's fun to watch," Gardenhire said. "There are a lot of meetings going on, lot of good talking about a lot of players. I think Terry's pretty serious about this stuff. He always is. He knows we need to get better, and he wants to do it. And he's not trying to make it a total turnaround at once. No one believes we can do that, but we're going to get better and play better baseball."

Gardenhire likely wouldn't be back managing the club if he thought the Twins didn't have a chance to be competitive in the near future, as his contract expired at the end of last season. But Gardenhire re-upped for two more years, and wants to be a part of bringing the Twins back to their winning ways.

He knows it won't be easy turning around a club that has struggled for three years, but believes the Twins are building a solid future, especially with their farm system that ranks as one of the game's best.

"I'm just happy the Twins have given me an opportunity to come back and kind of right the ship and fix it," Gardenhire said. "I've been through the good times, and I've been through some bad ones. I'm just happy I'm getting this opportunity to kind of turn this thing back the right way and move forward from there."

Gardenhire is also looking forward to receiving some help from Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, who was hired by the club as a full-time coach in late October.

Molitor, who was present at the Winter Meetings on Monday as part of the Hall of Fame's Expansion Era Committee, will be in charge of overseeing baserunning, bunting, infield instruction and positioning, and will also assist with in-game strategy next season.

"I've talked to him about the strategies of the game, and this is going to be exciting to have his mind out there with us," Gardenhire said. "He's fired up about it, which is a good thing. He's a Hall of Fame guy added to our staff."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger.

Minnesota Twins, Phil Hughes, Ricky Nolasco