- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 15, 2011

FORT MYERS, FLA. (AP) - Joe Mauer’s return to the Minnesota lineup has been set for Friday.

Mauer finished his minor-league rehabilitation assignment by facing teammate Joe Nathan in a live batting practice session in Florida on Wednesday. He hasn’t played for the Twins since April 12, plagued by weakness and soreness in his legs and throwing shoulder.

Manager Ron Gardenhire said before Wednesday’s game against the Chicago White Sox in Minnesota that Mauer will travel on Thursday and start at catcher on Friday against the San Diego Padres.

“It was a lot longer than I had hoped,” Mauer said after his workout. “But I got my work in, and I worked with a lot of great people down here. It was nice, but obviously I want to be up there in Minnesota and be up there playing. I feel like I’m ready to get out of here.”

Mauer has played in only nine games this year because of his injuries, hitting just .235 with four RBIs in the first season of an eight-year, $184 million contract extension. He had arthroscopic knee surgery in December and said last month that his body wasn’t ready when the season started.

Nathan said Mauer looked sharp.

“I threw him some pretty good breaking balls,” Nathan said. “It’s really just impressive to see the pitches he can take when he’s down 1-2 in the count. I threw him a couple of sliders. He put a good swing on them. It’s nice to see him find his swing again and start to feel good again.”

Nathan pitched to Mauer and Twins prospect Miguel Sano at the team’s spring training headquarters. Nathan has been on the disabled list since May 23 with soreness in his right forearm, a condition related to his recovery from Tommy John surgery last year. He struggled at the beginning of the season with a 7.63 ERA in 17 appearances, a not surprising slow start given that he missed all of last year with the elbow injury.

“I took some time off to break up some scar tissue,” Nathan said. “Ever since that, it has been night and day with how the ball has been coming out of my hand. The ball felt like it was coming out of my hand a lot better than what I’ve been used to. I think I’m starting to finish my pitches a lot better. I’m seeing more life on the ball now.”

Nathan will also travel to Minnesota on Thursday and be re-evaluated by team doctors, but Gardenhire said he prefers the right-hander to pitch in Triple-A for a few days before he rejoins the roster.

“We want game situations. There’ll be an argument. I think I’ll win,” the manager said.

Mauer said Nathan looked more like the All-Star closer he is used to catching.

“He looked really good,” Mauer said. “The ball was coming out of his hand. I got a lot out of it, just seeing the break on his pitches, how fast they were. You don’t normally see that down here. Joe is one of the best pitchers in the game, and he looked good today.”

With shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka returning to the roster on Wednesday, the Twins are slowly moving closer to full strength.

Left-hander Glen Perkins, the team’s most effective reliever until he strained an oblique muscle on his right side last month, was traveling on Wednesday and could be taken off the disabled list on Friday.



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