DETROIT - Twins infielder Nick Punto kept the news quiet because the last thing he wanted, during this miserable season, was to make excuses.
But Punto played through pain in his rib cage area for about six weeks after suffering a slight oblique muscle injury in early June.
During those weeks, Punto stopped going to the batting cage for extra hitting, choosing to save his swings for on-field batting practice and the games.
He felt better at the end of August, and it helps explain why September has been his best month.
Punto ended August with a .197 batting average. But he has raised that average to .212 by batting .311 (19-for-61) for September.
Punto sounded surprised when a reporter asked him about the injury.
"I don't want it to be an excuse because I felt plenty good enough to play," he said. "If I had it to do all over again, I would have done the same thing."
Punto battled numerous injuries earlier in his career, but the past two seasons he has shed the label as a player who can't keep himself in the lineup.
He played 135 games last year and batted .290.
This year, he has played a career-high 147 games.
"A few years ago, maybe I would have said something about [the injury]," he said. "But I had a good enough swing. I wasn't about to pull myself out of the lineup and let my teammates down."
One day after Torii Hunter told KFAN AM-1130, "Somebody needs to slap a couple people around and say, 'You got to play no matter what,' " manager Ron Gardenhire said that's not his jurisdiction.
"Players can get on players all they want, and they should," Gardenhire said. "As a manager, I have respect for these players enough, if they tell me they can't play, they can't play."
Gardenhire added, "It's the worst thing a manager can do is question a guy's heart.
"From a manager's standpoint, you start questioning whether a guy is really hurt or not, I don't think you'll have this job too long. I really don't. You'll lose the players. You'll lose respect. It's very important to have the players' respect and understanding."
After his heated exchange with San Diego Padres outfielder Milton Bradley on Sunday, umpire Mike Winters was in Detroit for the Twins-Tigers series.
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