Notes: Mauer, Punto to return Saturday
Catcher, infielder will play in Grapefruit League finale
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Joe Mauer and Nick Punto took it down to the wire, but Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was able to breathe a sigh of relief after Friday's loss to Pittsburgh.
"They'll both be back out there on the field [Saturday]," Gardenhire said, "and we should be right on pace to start the season if we can get through [Saturday] OK."
Mauer, the All-Star catcher who hit .347 with 84 RBIs in 2006, has been out of action for a week with a stress reaction in his left fibula. He went 1-for-5 with a single as a designated hitter in a Minor League game in Fort Myers and reported no problems. He'd originally been scheduled to play against Pittsburgh in Bradenton on Friday afternoon, but Gardenhire decided Friday morning to leave Mauer off of the travel roster because he'd caught the previous two days.
Entering his first year as a starter, Punto has been out since March 18 while battling a strained right groin. The third baseman also went 1-for-5 and played five innings of defense. All, Gardenhire said, is good to go.
"It's been a little nerve-racking with Punto and a little nerve-racking with Mauer, but once Mauer got out there [on] back-to-back days, I saw there was nothing [wrong] with him," Gardenhire said. "Nicky, I was definitely worried about. He said he felt great [Thursday], and he felt great again [Friday], and I think we're pretty much on the right path now." Both players will be in the lineup Saturday for a home game against the Pirates, a final preseason tune-up before the team heads north for the regular season.
Off to a good start: Ramon Ortiz mowed through Pitsburgh's lineup Friday, limiting the Pirates to one hit over his four innings pitched to lower his ERA to 3.10. But Ortiz, in his first year with Minnesota after coming over from the Nationals, is garnering praise for more than just scoreless innings.
"He's an inning-eater type guy, a veteran guy," Gardenhire said. "He keeps the pace of the game going, he throws the ball over the plate, keeps the ball down in the zone ... and doesn't back away. We like that around here.
"He's going to attack the hitters, and that's all we ask of him: just attack the hitters. Make them swing the bats. We normally catch the ball pretty well."
... but not a great finish: Up 3-0 in the eighth on Friday, Twins pitcher David Shinskie gave up five runs [three earned] in 1/3 of an inning off of five hits. A fielding error by second baseman Felix Molina, as well as a hit batter by Shinskie's relief, Kyle Waldrop, added to the Pirates' momentum in the 5-3 loss.
But Spring Training is a time to learn, and Gardenhire wasn't the least bit upset with what he saw.
"The game moved right along through seven innings, and then we kind of missed some plays out there ... with some of the younger guys, but that's OK," he said. "They're out there playing and busting their tails, so that's all we ask."
Celebrating in style: Versatile defender Chris Heintz learned just yesterday that he'd finally made an Opening Day roster, and showed the Twins they'd made the right decision as he knocked out his first homer of the Grapefruit League season on Friday.
Heintz, who plays "everything but shortstop," and was behind the plate during the game, said he didn't have the words to describe how he felt about being selected.
"Making a team, especially a team as dominant as this one, it's just a great feeling," he said. "I'm sure [making the team] had to do with [the home run], because I'm not usually a home run hitter. I probably had a little bit more adrenaline from the day before, when [Gardenhire] told me."
Up next: The Twins return to Fort Myers on Saturday for their final Grapefruit League game. Minnesota righty Sidney Ponson will get the ball and face Pirates left-hander Paul Maholm. Game time is scheduled for 12:05 p.m. CT.
Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.