After seven solid weeks of disappointment, Alexi Casilla has become a sudden catalyst for the Twins.

Manager Ron Gardenhire gave him his first start at shortstop since May 1 on Friday, and Casilla had three extra-base hits against the Angels.

It was the Casilla Show until the Twins bullpen squandered a 5-0 eighth-inning lead in a 6-5 loss.

With rookie shortstop Trevor Plouffe benched for the past three games, Casilla has racked up seven hits, raising his batting average from .188 to .236.

On Friday, he also drew a walk, stole a base and made a tough play in the hole to keep Hank Conger from bringing home the go-ahead run in the eighth inning.

"He's been swinging good, he's been playing aggressive, and that's what we have to have from him," Gardenhire said.

Plouffe sits again

Plouffe, who pinch ran for Jim Thome in the seventh inning Friday, hasn't started since he botched two eighth-inning plays at shortstop Monday.

Meanwhile, the team's Opening Day second baseman, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, continues to rehab from a broken left fibula in Fort Myers, Fla. He's scheduled to get multiple at-bats Saturday in an extended spring training game and play about five innings in the field.

Plouffe still has time to make an impression. Whenever he gets his next opportunity, he'll need to play much less passively.

"Corey Koskie -- guys like that, when they first came up here, they weren't that good," Gardenhire said. "But they got better and better as they went along because we stayed after them, and we're going to do the same thing with these young men here.

"As I told him, 'Trevor, you'll get through this. Right now, you feel like crap, but this is where you have to understand: Forget about those at-bats, forget about the offensive side of it, [on defense at shortstop] is where you control the game.'

"Maybe he'll get it this time by sitting on the bench a little bit here. ... Sometimes you have to get knocked down to get back up a fighter. We'll see."

Hunter continues to lead

When Torii Hunter first started playing for the Angels, in 2008, he told Manager Mike Scioscia that he would be quiet at first and wait to make his presence felt.

"That lasted about seven minutes," Scioscia said. "Seven minutes of our first meeting, and all of a sudden his personality was out there."

The Angels have welcomed that leadership.

"I think that every team that wants to move in the right direction needs some internal player leadership as opposed to what coaches or a manager can bring," Scioscia said. "It comes in all forms. Some guys, they do it by being quiet and steady. They're a presence. And some guys are going to be more vocal.

"I think Torii is a great combination of both, because he puts his money where his mouth is.''


• After experiencing forearm soreness earlier in the week, Matt Capps felt better Friday and was available to pitch.

• Joe Mauer (bilateral leg weakness) continues to DH in extended spring training games -- he had four pain-free plate appearances Friday, going 0-for-2 with two walks.

• Jose Mijares (strained elbow) could be ready to come off the disabled list Monday, after making two rehab appearances for Class A Fort Myers.

• Glen Perkins (strained oblique) has made quick progress and could be ready to start throwing again this weekend.