PIT@MIN: Hicks sends one to the boardwalk in fifth

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The leadoff spot was essentially a black hole for the Twins in 2013.

Minnesota's leadoff hitters combined to hit .225 with a .286 on-base percentage and just 10 stolen bases on the season. Much of it was dragged down by Aaron Hicks' going 2-for-43 at leadoff, but it remains a problem the Twins have not solved.

Second baseman Brian Dozier batted first against the Rays on Thursday night as the club continues the search. Center fielders Alex Presley and the switch-hitting Hicks have also seen time atop the order this spring.

"It would be nice if we had somebody we were comfortable with and thought was a really good leadoff hitter," Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony said. "We feel like we have some options in that area but probably nobody ideal you'd say is a natural fit."

The leadoff spot is not foreign to Dozier, who hit .253/.310/.462 in 74 games there last season, but the Twins see him more as a No. 2 hitter, especially after his exhibition of power last season with a club-leading 18 homers.

"He has some qualities to lead off, but he also fits well in a few different spots," Antony said. "He fits nicely in the two-hole and also fits nicely in a position where he's able to drive in a few runs. He was a run producer last year and showed off some power."

The Twins would like to see Hicks develop into a leadoff hitter, as he posted a career .376 on-base percentage in his six seasons in the Minors. But Hicks is still a work in progress, even if he appears at this point to be the front-runner to start at center field over Presley.

"If Aaron Hicks hits the way he's capable of, his on-base percentage will go up, and he can steal a base," Antony said. "You could make a case he could be the leadoff hitter. It's all going to come down to the at-bats he takes and how he handles it."

Hicks made some strides offensively on Thursday night, going 4-for-4 at the plate with a double. He is now batting .375 (12-for-32) this spring.

"It's one of those things where you have to get one side going, and the other side going, and if you can get both of them clicking at the same time, you can have days like this with two hits from each side," Hicks said after Thursday's 5-4 loss to the Rays. "If I can continue that, it'll be pretty good."

Catcher Kurt Suzuki was also moved up Thursday, hitting at the two-hole. Though Suzuki has experience at every spot over his seven-year career, he has a career .309 on-base percentage.

"He's done it in his career, but he had a .290 on-base [percentage] last year, and that probably isn't going to work," Antony said. "But I think he's taking some good at-bats and showing some bat control in Spring Training."

No shortage of arms competing in bullpen

Cory Provus examines the Twins' revamped rotation

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- While Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony said Wednesday he was not happy with the quality of the competition between position players, he praised the relievers competing for spots in the bullpen on Thursday.

While Spring Training stats can be deceiving, Twins relievers entering Thursday's game had combined to post a 3.31 ERA in Grapefruit League play, which ranked fourth in the Majors.

Several relievers competing for spots have stood out this spring, including Michael Tonkin (0.00 ERA in 6 1/3 innings), Deolis Guerra (0.00 ERA in five innings), Caleb Thielbar (1.59 ERA in 5 2/3 innings), Aaron Thompson (1.80 ERA in five innings) and Matt Hoffman (0.00 ERA in four innings).

"We have a lot of guys throwing well," Antony said. "Some of the other guys who were in the tail end as the 11th, 12th and 13th guys in our bullpen [last year] have pitched well, as well as our non-rosters and guys just competing for spots."

But Glen Perkins, Jared Burton, Casey Fien, Brian Duensing and Anthony Swarzak have most likely secured places in the bullpen based on their track records from last season, leaving two open spots.

Thielbar appears to have an advantage based on his impressive rookie year and his numbers this spring, while the last spot could be occupied by Tonkin or Ryan Pressly, who was solid as a Rule 5 Draft pick last year but had a 7.11 ERA in 6 1/3 innings this spring entering Thursday.

But the Twins could also decide to stash one or two starting pitchers who are out of options, like Scott Diamond or Vance Worley in the bullpen if Samuel Deduno claims the fifth spot in the rotation.

Worth noting

• Catcher Josmil Pinto and outfielder Chris Parmelee saw action in Minor League games on Thursday, playing for Triple-A Rochester to get more at-bats this spring. Pinto went 2-for-4, while Parmelee added two doubles.

"They were fine," Antony said. "We wanted to get them at-bats to get their swings going."

• Right-hander Mike Pelfrey pitched for Triple-A Rochester on Wednesday, and he is scheduled to pitch again Monday. Pelfrey threw 67 pitches over five innings.

"The first inning they knocked him around a little bit, but he came back with a 1-2-3 second inning," Antony said. "He was fine. It was just him getting his work. We did it to let [Kyle] Gibson pitch in the 'A' game because he's battling for a spot."

• Top prospect Byron Buxton was held out of Minor League action for a fourth straight day with a sore left wrist. Buxton, who is rated the top prospect in baseball by MLB.com, originally injured his wrist diving for a ball in the outfield on Sunday.