Nishioka inches closer to return

While Trevor Plouffe struggles in his bid to become the long-term starter at shortstop, Tsuyoshi Nishioka is getting healthy and is about to play games again.

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Twins second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka broke his leg when New York’s Nick Swisher took him out breaking up a potential double play.

Photo: Kathy Willens, Associated Press

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While Trevor Plouffe struggles in his bid to become the long-term starter at shortstop, Tsuyoshi Nishioka is getting healthy and is about to play games again.

Nishioka, working out in Fort Myers, Fla., for three weeks, will try sliding drills Thursday. If all goes well, he will play in extended spring training games starting Friday. He will start at shortstop Friday and also will play some at second base.

But the Twins view him as a possible solution at short. "We'll probably use him at both places," manager Ron Gardenhire said, "but shortstop, I'm going to see a lot of him at shortstop."

Nishioka has been working with Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, who flew to Florida over the weekend to help with Nishioka's footwork and turning double plays.

Nishioka, the Opening Day starter at second, landed on the disabled list because of a broken fibula suffered April 7 after a takeout slide by the Yankees' Nick Swisher.

Plouffe laid back on a couple grounders Monday that proved costly in an 8-7 loss to Seattle. Plouffe has a chance to lock down the shortstop position for the rest of the season but is batting .212 with three homers and 10 RBI in 13 games.

He can drive the ball a little, but Gardenhire wants better defense.

"He says the game is pretty quick up here," Gardenhire said. "You get teams like [Seattle] that come flying out of the box, you have to play the game at a different speed. Last night, he didn't play at the right speed."

Matt Tolbert started at short Tuesday and drove in a run in the Twins' 4-2 victory over the Mariners. Plouffe is expected to return to the lineup Wednesday.

Mauer to DH in Florida

Catcher Joe Mauer, also working out in Fort Myers, will get three or four at-bats during an extended spring training game Wednesday as the designated hitter.

He is at least a week away from catching, partially because he is still regaining strength in his shoulder to throw.

"There's been some tenderness in the arm and he's been doing all the exercises, tubes and everything," Gardenhire said. "He's throwing. I think he threw [from] 150 feet today for eight minutes or 10 minutes, and he is getting better by the day."

Gardenhire said the club has a date in mind for when he might return to the Twins, but wouldn't reveal it. "They have a plan and a target date for him to come back and they are going to work up to that and see if that works out," Gardenhire said. "If it has to be adjusted, it has to be adjusted."

Slowey update

Kevin Slowey will be checked by a specialist Wednesday to make sure he hasn't suffered a sports hernia.

After viewing Slowey's magnetic resonance imaging exam Monday, the Twins medical staff ruled out an abdominal strain but recommended he see the same specialist who handled Luke Hughes' sports hernia operation last year.

Slowey first felt the abdominal pain in his May 15 appearance vs. Toronto and has pitched only once since then -- Friday's loss at Arizona. Depending on what the specialist says, the Twins likely will either place him on the disabled list or send him to Class AAA Rochester.

Etc.

• Michael Cuddyer didn't start Tuesday because of a sore hip but should play Wednesday. "I wanted to play [Tuesday]," he said, "but after talking to Gardy, this is the best decision."

• Lefthander Jose Mijares, out because of a sore elbow, will throw in the bullpen Wednesday and is expected to begin a rehabilitation assignment this weekend.

Staff writer Joe Christensen contributed to this report.

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