Tsuyoshi Nishioka struggled in his return from Class AAA Rochester.
CLEVELAND - All the talk during Monday's pregame was about how much more comfortable and relaxed Tsuyoshi Nishioka was at Class AAA Rochester heading into his 2012 debut for the Twins.
But Cleveland's first batter of the game, Jason Kipnis, hit a bouncer that Nishioka turned into something out of a cartoon. Nishioka bobbled the ball for an error and fell forward, nearly face-planting as he made a feeble throw wide of first base.
"He was making some jokes about it, which is a good thing," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said after a 14-3 victory. "He was getting on a couple other players, they were saying some things, and he was firing on them. I like that."
Still, it was a stark contrast to the comment Nishioka gave through a translator before the game about his time in Rochester: "Defensively, I just try to be more relaxed and just try to stay calm out there."
He looked every bit as panicked as last year, when he made 12 errors in 68 games. Cleveland quickly loaded the bases, but Twins lefthander Scott Diamond limited the damage to one run.
Nishioka's teammates quickly took him off the hook. Josh Willingham and Justin Morneau opened the second inning with back-to-back home runs off Indians starter Zach McAllister. Cleveland second baseman Kipnis made a throwing error with two outs, and it proved far more costly than Nishioka's error.
The Twins went on to score 10 runs in the inning, seven of which were unearned. Nishioka, who finished the game 0-for-5 with a strikeout, made two of the three outs in the second inning, when the Twins sent 13 batters to the plate.
Nishioka did make a nice, quick turn on a 5-4-3 double play in the second inning, and he made another nice play charging a grounder in the third. But he was also charged with a tough error in the eighth inning on a hard grounder up the middle by Shin-Soo Choo, then failed to come up with a high but catchable throw in the ninth on an error charged to third baseman Jamey Carroll.
At Rochester, Nishioka committed six errors in 70 games at second, and three errors in 14 games at shortstop. Gardenhire said the plan is to give Nishioka regular playing time at second.
"We're just going to let him play," Gardenhire said.Dozier still on thin ice
The Twins hope third baseman Trevor Plouffe (bruised thumb) can return from the disabled list Friday, so they will need to clear a roster spot, but Nishioka doesn't have to view this series in Cleveland as a three-game audition.
"It's not just three days for Nishi," Gardenhire said. "Nishi is here to play."
Meanwhile, rookie shortstop Brian Dozier remains a candidate for a demotion.
After going 3-for-4 with a home run Thursday at Boston, he went 1-for-16 over the next four games, including 0-for-3 with two walks Monday. His seventh-inning walk was his first in nine games; he walked again in the ninth, leaving his on-base percentage at .269.
"The option is to send him back down, get him grounded again, get him out of that I'm-in-the-big-leagues mentality and then bring him back up," Gardenhire said.
Gardenhire stressed how much he likes Dozier but acknowledged the team has had repeated discussions about sending him back to Rochester.
"If he continues to struggle offensively -- he's not drawing walks -- is it the right thing to do?" Gardenhire said. "We talked about that at the All-Star break, and believe me, I've wondered myself. I don't have any intention of doing it right now, but that could change tomorrow. It really could."
|Boston - WP: M. Ott||4||FINAL|
|Minnesota - LP: M. Hoffman||3|
|UC Santa Barbara||38|
|San Diego St||73|
|Utah Valley U||83|
|Cal State Fullerton||56||FINAL|
|Long Beach State||66|
|Sam Houston St||70|
|New Mexico St||70|
|Miss Valley St||68||FINAL|
|(22) Middle Tennessee||69|
|William & Mary||65|