ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. – The Twins opened a four-game series Thursday against the one of the top teams in the American League without its best hitter.

Shortstop Jorge Polanco, who is in the top 10 in several offensive categories, did not start Thursday because of illness. The Twins said Polanco was available off the bench if needed. It's bad timing: The Twins entered the game with the best record in baseball, while the Rays had the fourth-best record in the AL.

Marwin Gonzalez batted in Polanco's customary No. 2 hole, while Ehire Adrianza started at shortstop.

Polanco's .335 batting average entering Thursday was second in the AL. He also was in the top 10 in several offensive categories, including hits (tied for second), extra-base hits (tied for first), total bases (first) and triples (third).

Keep in mind that the Twins, under new manager Rocco Baldelli, have emphasized keeping their players as well-rested and fresh as possible. But that approach could be challenged this week as they face a talented Rays team.

Rocco's world

Baldelli, meanwhile, was back in familiar surroundings at Tropicana Field. Baldelli spent 18 years with Tampa Bay as a player, coach or member of its baseball operations department. The Rays made it possible for him to become a manager, and local media filled his office before the game to listen to him explain his gratefulness to the organization.

"There's no way that I can give a comment on that that's going to actually portray or describe it well," he said. "You can't put that kind of emotion into just a few words. I consider a lot of people here family and friends and people I will know for the rest of my life. That's speaks for itself."

The Rays, following the end of the first inning, played a video of Baldelli's career with the Rays, and many fans gave him a standing ovation as he doffed his cap in appreciation.

Rays manager Kevin Cash, known to be a prankster, told media Wednesday that he had no surprises in store for Baldelli. But video coordinator Chico Fernandez left him a gift when he entered the office Thursday.

"I got some cargo shorts, which he obviously knew won't fit," Baldelli said. "And some shoes that also don't fit. Fantastic. It was a good day."

Cash claimed innocence but, somehow, knew all the details about Fernandez's trip to Goodwill.

"I had nothing to do with it, I promise," Cash said. "When I do something, I promise I will stand by it. I thought it was a good idea. It's very true. Rocco is known for wearing UPS shorts all over the ballpark, so we got him some new ones. Or some used ones."


Nelson Cruz, still recovering from a sore left wrist, hit in the cage before the game and said he felt good. He plans to hit on the field with the team before Friday's game, which suggests he continues to make incremental improvements as he works to be activated from the injured list.

Mitch Garver, in his first game during a rehab assignment at Class AA Pensacola, was 0-for-2 with a strikeout Wednesday. He was 0-for-3 Thursday with two strikeouts. He'll catch nine innings Friday.

Garver is on the comeback trail after suffering a mild high left ankle sprain on May 14. The Twins have played well despite Cruz and Garver being on the IL, but are ready to get back to full strength.

• Longtime Twins scout Larry Corrigan, who spent two stints with the club, attended Thursday's game. Corrigan, who first joined the Twins in 1988, worked until he suffered a stroke while scouting a game in Arkansas in 2016.