FORT MYERS, FLA. - Luke Hughes, a stocky infielder from Perth, Australia, continues to muscle his way into the Twins' Opening Day roster discussion.
Hughes is competing with Matt Tolbert and Trevor Plouffe for a utility infield spot. The other two might be better defensive options, especially up the middle, but Hughes is separating himself with his bat.
Hughes, 26, smashed a two-run double Thursday in the first inning off Blue Jays starter Jesse Litsch. The ball short-hopped the left-center field fence. He's batting .370 (10-for-27) with two doubles and leads the team with three homers and 10 RBI.
"He's a strong kid," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We've seen him hit the ball pretty far. He played a little ball this winter [in Australia and Venezuela], which probably gave him a little leapfrog coming in here. It looks like he's kind of ahead of the curve, as they say."
Tolbert is batting .167, and Plouffe is batting .211, though neither has had more than 20 at-bats.
Joe Nathan tossed his fourth scoreless inning of the spring in Thursday's 7-4 loss to Toronto, with his fastball hitting sitting at 90-91 miles per hour, just a few ticks lower than he was before having reconstructive elbow surgery.
"We've seen the velocity pretty much stay consistent," Gardenhire said. "Whether it gets better or not, we don't know, but it's pretty good where it is."
Rain delayed Thursday's game for 70 minutes, and rather than risk injuries on a wet field, the Twins scratched Delmon Young, Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Jim Thome from the lineup.
Young is recovering from a swollen left toe, Nishioka has been dealing with a sore quadriceps muscle, and Thome's always cautious with his back. All three should be back in the lineup Friday.
• The Twins signed outfielder Joe Dickerson to a minor league contract. A fourth-round pick by the Royals in 2005, Dickerson reached Class AA in 2009 but likely will begin this season at Class A Fort Myers. The Twins have now signed 13 minor league free agents from other organizations.
• Michael Cuddyer (wart removal) planned to have his left foot rebandaged so he could throw and take some swings Thursday.
• One day after giving up five earned runs in 1 2/3 innings, Francisco Liriano said his left shoulder feels fine but his mechanics are out of whack.
Brian Duensing pitches for the Twins on Friday, when the Red Sox visit Hammond Stadium. Justin Morneau is scheduled to start against Red Sox lefthander Jon Lester. This could be a test for Morneau, who missed eight months because of concussion symptoms, before returning to face two righthanded pitchers in Tuesday's B-game against Pittsburgh.