Reusse: It's time for Twins to end their sad glove affair with Nishioka

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 9, 2012 - 12:22 PM

These flaws appeared in Nishioka's defensive game in Cleveland: Catching, throwing, flipping, diving, covering and looking skyward.

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Twins second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka lost a pop fly in the sun hit by the Indians' Shelley Duncan in the sixth inning Wednesday.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka hustled from the visitors clubhouse at Progressive Field on Wednesday afternoon to catch a flight from Cleveland to Rochester, N.Y. This came after a three-game series in which flaws appeared in Nishioka's defensive game, including catching, throwing, flipping, diving, covering and looking skyward.

The advertised purpose of the flight was for Nishioka to pack up his belongings from a four-month stay in Rochester and then fly to the Twin Cities on Thursday to resume his already memorable 2012 play with the Twins.

Nishioka and his employer would be better served if they agreed on a change in itinerary: He could hang out Thursday at Greater Rochester International Airport until 3:49 p.m., catch the one-stop (Detroit) to Tokyo and be back in the country of his baseball success before midnight Friday.

In December 2010, Nishioka came to the Twins as a 26-year-old middle infielder and the reigning Japan League batting champion. The 68 games he played for the Twins last season featured such confused fielding and ridiculous flailing at the plate that it came off as a spoof of a big-league ballplayer.

The Twins had him signed through 2013, so Nishi came to Fort Myers for spring training this February and was quickly sent across the parking lot to the minor league complex.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire probably figured he was done with Nishioka, with the exception of a courtesy call-up in September, but this maneuvering took place Sunday:

Danny Valencia was traded to Boston and Nishioka was called up to fill the roster spot. He had earned this promotion by raising his average all the way to .245 for Rochester.

This didn't seem to be a big deal. The Twins needed a fourth infielder in case of an injury to Jamey Carroll, Brian Dozier or Alexi Casilla. Barring that, Nishioka could sit around for a few days, maybe pinch run, as the Twins awaited the return of Trevor Plouffe from the disabled list.

Except on Monday night, there was Nishioka batting seventh and playing second, and there was Gardenhire telling reporters that Nishi was "here to play,'' and that him being in the lineup wasn't a few-days thing.

On Monday night, the Twins won 14-3, and the main topic among fans back in Minnesota was the ineptitude of Nishioka in the field and at the plate. On Tuesday night, the Twins rallied for a 7-5 victory, and Nishioka's tie-breaking sacrifice fly was greeted by our beloved television homers as the Twins' greatest hitting feat since Kirby's home run in Game 6.

He did fail to get to first base in time on a sacrifice, but, hey, no balls bounced off him, so that was nice.

And then came Wednesday afternoon. God Save the Queen.

I don't know how that fits. I had to come up with something that wasn't profane.

These were my two main questions of the afternoon of Nishi Foolery:

Why did he dive for a ground ball that he could have gotten in front of with one more slide step to his right? And, why was he walking in the opposite direction after the popup he lost in the sun landed and was resting on the grass?

Before Wednesday's first pitch, I sent an e-mail to General Manager Terry Ryan asking for the official version of why Gardenhire had said of Nishioka, "He's here to play.''

Ryan's response was: "I am not sure what you are looking for. It is up to Gardy to make out the lineup with the 25 players available.''

Gardenhire's public comments Wednesday did not sound like those of a manager who was playing Nishioka because he wanted to. He harrumphed his way through a Nishioka question from reporters and said he was done talking about the second baseman.

It seems clear that Gardenhire was playing Nishioka in Cleveland at the behest of the front office. The Twins still owe him $4 million and, best guess, Ryan didn't want to write it off without taking another look.

Three games -- and it's been as hard to look at as Medusa's head.

Forget the $4 million. Forget the morning flight to the Twin Cities. Put Nishi on that 3:49 to Tokyo. It will be better for all parties than to require him to break out his game for the Target Field faithful this weekend.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. preusse@startribune.com

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