'Sorry' state of Twins affairs after Nishioka's injury

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 8, 2011 - 12:56 AM

Amid apologies all around, the Twins now must overcome Tsuyoshi Nishioka's broken leg.

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Nick Swisher checked on second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka after he was injured in the seventh inning. Nishioka broke his fibula and will be out for an extended period of time. Luke Hughes was called up.

Photo: Kathy Willens, Associated Press

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NEW YORK - Tsuyoshi Nishioka hobbled over to Twins General Manager Bill Smith on Thursday, tucked his silver crutches under one arm and said two words in perfect English: "I'm sorry."

Nishioka, the Twins' first Japanese-born player, had just suffered a broken left fibula on Nick Swisher's take-out slide in the seventh inning of a 4-3 loss to the New York Yankees.

He was the one hurting, but he felt worse about what his injury did to the team.

Smith immediately put a hand on Nishioka's shoulder and said, "I'm sorry. It's a long season. You're going to be all right."

As the Twins headed home for Friday's Target Field opener, following a 2-4 road trip to Toronto and New York, their prevailing mood wasn't anger.

Nishioka, manager Ron Gardenhire and others said Swisher's slide was clean. The players felt sorry for Nishioka, and themselves, since they must move forward now without their second baseman and No. 2 hitter.

The Twins placed Nishioka on the 15-day disabled list, promoting Luke Hughes from Class AAA Rochester to take his place.

Smith said they wouldn't have a timetable for Nishioka's return until he could be evaluated by team doctors. But even Nishioka could tell from the X-rays taken at Yankee Stadium that he had suffered a fracture, right below the knee.

When Nishioka saw the throng of Japanese reporters who have been following his every move, he shook his head and said, "Worst thing."

Nishioka, 26, said he had never broken a bone in his life and felt sick about it.

"I wanted to show my play in front of the Minnesota fans, and it's unfortunate that I won't be able to do that," Nishioka said through a translator. "I'll do my best to be back as soon as possible, and I feel bad to give the bad news to the team."

Nishioka won the Japanese Pacific League batting title last year along with his third Gold Glove Award, helping the Chiba Lotte Marines win a title. The Twins won the bidding for his negotiating rights with a $5 million posting fee, then signed him to a three-year, $9.25 million contract.

After batting .345 in spring training, Nishioka batted .208 (5-for-24) in six regular-season games, with one double, two RBI, two walks and eight strikeouts.

Gardenhire said it was too early to say how the Twins will replace Nishioka at second base or in batting order.

Matt Tolbert entered as Nishioka's replacement Thursday. Hughes also showed he could play second base during spring training, when he led the team with six homers.

"I don't think there's ever a good time for injuries," Gardenhire said. "I would love to see [Nishioka] back out there playing; that's why we signed him. He's going to be a really good player. This is a minor setback. We'll get him well and go from here."

Swisher visited Nishioka in the X-ray room.

"The first thing I said was, 'I'm sorry, man. I thought you were going to jump,' " Swisher said. "And he said, 'It was my fault. I should have gotten out of the way.' I was just trying to break up a double play. I didn't mean to do that. Especially with a guy like that, just trying to make his mark over here."

Nishioka said he appreciated Swisher's apology but didn't feel it was necessary.

Added Gardenhire: "[Nishioka] just got caught a little flat-footed. Swisher's a clean player. That's just a good baseball slide, trying to break up a double play. There's no intent there."

The Yankees actually toppled Nishioka twice in the inning. On the play before the injury, Derek Jeter made a clean slide into second, Nishioka's throw was in the dirt, and first baseman Justin Morneau couldn't grab it.

"He apologized for throwing the ball in the dirt; that's the way he is," Morneau said. "I said it wouldn't have happened if I would have caught it."

The injury came when Mark Teixeira hit another potential double play ball to third baseman Danny Valencia. Nishioka ranged to the third base side of second to catch Valencia's throw, and Swisher made a late slide to that side of the base, with his shins clipping Nishioka's.

"The one thing is he got kind of sideways, trying to throw back over because that's where the throw took him," Gardenhire said. "He's lucky he didn't get it straight on the side of the knee. If you get your leg locked like that, I've seen a lot of damage done. He got hit hard."

So did the team.

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