CLEVELAND -- Justin Morneau expressed optimism about a possible return to the field yet this season when he spoke to reporters on Wednesday. But while it was a good sign as Morneau continues to recover from a concussion he suffered on July 7, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said his biggest concern right now is still the first baseman's health.

"When he's talking like he's having some good days, that's all we hope for," Gardenhire said. "I just want him to get healthy again, no matter which way it goes. I would like to see the young man say he feels great again and then we'll worry about the baseball part of it. I'm more concerned about the health of him rather than the baseball part right now."

Morneau told reporters he'd had a number of good days recently and had considered the past week to be a good one. But Gardenhire said that Morneau was still not ready to travel with the team on its current six-game road trip to Cleveland and Chicago. And Gardenhire said he hasn't really even thought about when or if Morneau might be ready to get back on the field.

"I went by and talked to him the other day, it was about going on the road trip," Gardenhire said. "He had mentioned to somebody that he might want to go on a road trip, but his wife is going to have a baby and he's still not ready to go on a road trip. As I told him, this is about getting healthy. He needs to have 2-3 days in a row where nothing bothers him and he hasn't had that. ... I'm just letting him do his thing."

Mijares expected to join 'pen Saturday

CLEVELAND -- The Twins bullpen will get at least one left-hander back in the mix when Jose Mijares rejoins the group on Saturday.

Mijares threw 35 pitches in a simulated game at Progressive Field on Friday afternoon. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said that everything went well and that Mijares will likely be activated from the disabled list before Saturday's game against the Indians.

Mijares has not pitched for the Twins since Aug. 11, when he suffered a torn meniscus while trying to cover first base in a loss at Chicago. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on Aug. 16 to fix the problem and at the time, the prognosis was that Mijares would miss between 4-6 weeks with the possibility of returning sooner if everything went well.

It's been a little less than four weeks since Mijares' surgery and Gardenhire credited the speedy return to the work ethic of the left-hander during his recovery.

"He worked his tail off," Gardenhire said. "He did really well; listened to everything they said and did all of his work. He's in good shape and everything feels good. That's the way it has to be or he wouldn't have made it back this quick."

The Twins hope to have left-hander Brian Fuentes available soon as well. Fuentes, who has faced only one batter since the Twins acquired him from the Angels on Aug. 27, had an MRI on his stiff back on Wednesday and the results showed no structural damage. The left-hander felt great while playing catch on Friday and the plan now is for him to throw a bullpen on Saturday.

Having both Mijares and Fuentes in the mix would be a big boost to the Twins at the end of games, Gardenhire said.

Once we get [Mijares] out there and Fuentes, two really, really good left-handers, it gives you lots of options for those last few innings," Gardenhire said. "Both of them can come in and get lefties and righties out. That's two more really good arms if we can get them both back out there cranking."

Twins getting healthy for stretch drive

CLEVELAND -- Twins third baseman Danny Valencia returned to the lineup on Friday in Cleveland after missing five games with a tight right hamstring, and he may not be the only position player returning to the field for the Twins in the coming days.

Jim Thome was a late scratch from Wednesday's lineup against the Royals due to a mild abdominal strain, but the designated hitter was feeling much better on Friday. Thome was taking swings in the batting cage and manager Ron Gardenhire said that Thome would probably play in Saturday's contest against the Indians.

The Twins also activated Nick Punto from the 15-day disabled list on Friday. It was Punto's second stint on the DL with a strained left hamstring muscle and he has missed about a month of playing time because of the injury. Gardenhire said he was unsure if the infielder's hamstring was 100 percent, but he said that Punto is available to play defense, although he will avoid using him as a pinch-runner.

As for Valencia, the Twins were cautious with the third baseman's hamstring due to the issues that Punto had with his hamstring, having re-injured the muscle in his first game back off the DL. So the hope is that the extra time off will prevent any further injury for Valencia.

Twins remain focused as lead widens

CLEVELAND -- A 6-3 loss by the White Sox to the Tigers during the Twins' off-day on Thursday pushed Minnesota's lead in the American League Central race to a season-high six games.

But while the Twins have gained some ground in the division race in recent days, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said that his team has tried not to focus too much on what the White Sox have been doing -- good or bad.

"We just really try to forget about anybody other than us and who we are playing," Gardenhire said. "I don't know. We've been through this fortunately a few times. We try not to worry about those guys. Sure we watch them after the game and sure you talk about them like, 'Hey the Sox lost, that's good.' But they really can't help us until we're playing them head-to-head. Then you see where you are at every night with them. "

The Twins will get their final three head-to-head matchups with the White Sox starting Tuesday in Chicago. It's at the conclusion of their current six-game road trip, but for now the Twins are going to worry about playing the Indians and trying to make sure their lead doesn't diminish before they head to Chicago.

"We just tell ourselves to go about our business," Gardenhire said. "We are playing pretty good ball. We are finding ways to win, it's not like we are getting 15 hits a night or throwing no-hitters every night, but we are finding ways to win. That's very important this time of year."

Worth noting

Twins outfielder Jason Repko rejoined the team on Friday in Cleveland. He had left the team for a brief period to be with his wife, Traci, who gave birth to a baby girl on Wednesday in Richland, Wash. Averi Faith weighed in at 6 pounds, 9 ounces and was 19 1/4 inches long. ... Double-A New Britain manager Jeff Smith has joined the Twins as an extra coach. ... Triple-A Rochester outfielder Brandon Roberts and Elizabethton left-hander Pat Dean were named the Twins' Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Month for August. Roberts, 26, batted .358 with five doubles and 15 runs scored for the Red Wings in 27 games. Dean, 21, went 2-2 with a 2.59 ERA in six starts, striking out 33 in 25 1/3 innings.