BOSTON - The Twins will move forward with Trevor Plouffe as the starting shortstop, Alexi Casilla as the main second baseman and Michael Cuddyer as the regular right fielder, manager Ron Gardenhire said before Friday's game vs. the Red Sox.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka, the Opening Day second baseman, has been taking ground balls at both shortstop and second as he rehabs from his broken left fibula in Fort Myers, Fla. Nishioka will get one more X-ray before he is cleared to begin a minor league rehab stint, assistant trainer Dave Pruemer said, adding that this probably will come next week.

Gardenhire also wants to see this new middle-infield combination, leaving the door open for Plouffe or Casilla to remain in the lineup after Nishioka returns.

"It's not so much moving [Nishioka]," Gardenhire said. "I just want my options open there. I saw him get beat up at second base, and I also saw Lexi struggle at shortstop. I want Nishi to go over there at shortstop and see if that's the better route."

Gardenhire said Luke Hughes could spell Danny Valencia at third base or even play left field. In Cuddyer's case, the manager wants him to get comfortable at one position, hoping he will get his bat going.

Delmon Young (strained oblique) is getting closer to starting what is expected to be a brief minor league rehab stint, but Jim Thome was scheduled to have a magnetic resonance imaging exam for the same injury.

Kubel, who has been the team's best hitter by a wide margin, can shift between designated hitter and left field while Thome and Young are still on the disabled list.

"It'll be a nice problem to have when we get everybody back," Gardenhire said.

Hughes optioned

The Twins optioned lefthander Dusty Hughes to Class AAA Rochester, making room for righthander Kevin Slowey to come off the disabled list.

Hughes had a 10.12 ERA in 12 games after posting a 0.00 ERA in 11 spring training appearances.

Slowey, out since April 4 because of right shoulder bursitis, will move into a long-relief role.

"We'll make sure he gets good and properly loose," Gardenhire said. "I think we've learned this from the last time. I think he's learned he can't just get up, throw a couple balls and say he's ready. And we'll try to stay away from [using Slowey] back-to-back days."

Liriano gets sick

The Twins still plan to have Francisco Liriano pitch Monday's series finale at Fenway Park, but the lefthander -- coming off his 123-pitch no-hitter Tuesday against the White Sox -- had a sore throat Friday, so they sent him back to the team hotel.

If Liriano gets through his scheduled bullpen session Saturday, he will pitch Monday, but if not, the Twins could have righthander Nick Blackburn make that start on regular rest.


• Joe Mauer (bilateral leg weakness) increased the intensity of his throwing and hitting drills, but there still is no timetable for his return, Pruemer said.

• Josh Beckett will start Monday's series finale for the Red Sox, so the Twins should miss both Jon Lester and John Lackey in Boston. After facing Tim Wakefield, they will see Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka before facing Beckett.

• Gardenhire on why the team replaced catcher Steve Holm with Class AAA Rochester callup Rene Rivera: "Just trying to mix it up. Don't want to sit here and get complacent. I hope these guys understand we're not afraid to move people around."