In retrospect, Darin Mastroianni said Thursday, getting sent to the minors last month was the best thing that happened to him this spring.
"If you're not playing a lot, you can't really simulate game conditions, and my ankle wasn't getting better," the Twins outfielder said after arriving from Class AAA Rochester, called up for injured Oswaldo Arcia. "Going to Rochester helped me a lot. I played every day, got a lot of at-bats and, by the time we broke camp, everything felt totally normal again. This is the best I've felt in a year."
That's what the Twins want to hear because they see Mastroianni as a potential leadoff hitter if he can hit enough to stay in the lineup. He went 0-for-4 Thursday but hit the ball hard a couple of times and "felt great, even though the results weren't there," he said. "I took three good swings. Today was the first time since I got sent down that I didn't have a hit, so I trust what I'm doing."
Mastroianni was the leftover outfielder during spring training, sent out two weeks after games began when it became clear Aaron Hicks would make the team. Mastroianni was still recovering from surgery last summer to repair his broken foot, and his job as a backup had been given to newcomer Alex Presley.
But the Twins waived Presley and Houston claimed him, and Mastroianni healed. Now he has got a big-league job, and a fairly unique role.
"He can bunt, he creates havoc. That's his game," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's moving around really good. … And he's a guy we like because he can do some things on the bases."
One more for Mauer
With his twin 10-month-old daughters on the field to see it, Joe Mauer accepted his fifth Silver Slugger Award as baseball's best-hitting catcher on Thursday.
Mauer was honored, in a vote by the AL's managers and coaches, for his .324 batting average, along with his .404 on-base percentage, 35 doubles and 11 home runs.
"I take a lot of pride in it," said Mauer, now a first baseman. "It wasn't the easiest year around here, but I still tried to stick to my approach."
• Left fielder Josh Willingham was unavailable again Thursday, but he took some swings in the batting cage. The Twins hope the swelling in his bruised left wrist will disappear enough to allow him to take a full round of batting practice on Friday. With Mastroianni and Chris Herrmann now on the roster, the urgency for a decision on his health has lessened.
• The Athletics didn't need one Thursday, but had a closer been necessary, the Twins wouldn't have faced the same one they rallied against on Wednesday. Athletics manager Bob Melvin said before the game that Jim Johnson has been removed from the role after going 0-2 with two blown saves and an 18.90 ERA in his first five appearances with his new team. While Johnson works to regain his form, Melvin said he would use one of four relievers — Dan Otero, Luke Gregerson, Ryan Cook or Sean Doolittle — as his closer, depending on matchups.
• Newly acquired Twins shortstop Eduardo Nunez hasn't played in the 10 days since he was designated for assignment by the Yankees, so he's "a little rusty," Gardenhire said. Nunez, currently assigned to Class AAA Rochester, "has been [fielding] ground balls, doing extra hitting in the cages," Gardenhire said. "He's going to start [Thursday's] game and play five or six innings." Nunez was acquired Monday from New York for minor league pitcher Miguel Sulbaran.
• Infielder Jason Bartlett will run the bases Friday to test his sprained ankle and, if there is no soreness afterward, the Twins will make a determination about a rehab assignment while he is on the disabled list.