MINNEAPOLIS -- After seven seasons with the Twins, Nick Punto returned to Target Field on Monday. It was the first time he's played against his former club in a regular-season game since leaving after the 2010 season.
Punto played just one season at Target Field, its inaugural year in 2010. He was with Minnesota from 2005-10, spending five seasons in the old Metrodome. He signed with the Red Sox this offseason after winning the World Series with St. Louis last year.
"There's been a lot of turnover. I played with [Joe] Mauer and [Justin] Morneau and [Denard] Span," said Punto, who did not start for Boston in the opener of a three-game series. "A lot of the guys have left. It's always good to see the coaches and front-office people. [Over] seven years, you build a lot of relationships. It's always fun to come back and say hello. ... We had some good times in the 'Dome."
Punto said it was "strange" to see the Twins struggle after they had long been an American League Central contender. Punto's watched Morneau's bounce back this season following a concussion in 2010 that kept biting at Morneau last year.
"Real happy," Punto said. "I watched him play the other night. It was either Sunday Night or Monday Night Baseball, and I got to watch him. He had a big night against the Yankees. And the one thing that really stood out for me was that he dove to his right, kind of jarred his head, and then woke up the next day and I saw him in the lineup. That was nice to see for me.
"It's a scary thing. Like I said, you can fix your knee, you can fix your elbow, it's pretty hard to fix your brain."
Bard temporarily in 'pen, wants to remain starter
MINNEAPOLIS -- Bobby Valentine wants to keep Daniel Bard in the Red Sox's rotation, and Bard wants to remain a starter. What makes for intrigue is that stated intentions are not promises.
Bard, the Sox's fifth starter and a converted reliever, returned to his old bullpen role in the eighth inning of a 6-5 win over the Twins on Monday. The team used the outing to keep the right-hander from going 10 days without game action, and perhaps more importantly, to give the club's underperforming bullpen a temporary facelift.
"Well, he said that he'll do what's best for the team, and we had a tough situation there," Valentine said of Bard's ability to hold the go-ahead run for the Twins on third with one out. "I didn't think it'd be that tough for him to come into. [He got a] 3-2 line drive to third and a pop up to short and a win in his win column. He allowed everybody to be a happy camper."
It's unlikely Bard will be used on back-to-back days, so unless Boston decides it needs him in the bullpen, he'll be headed back to the rotation for a start Friday in Chicago. Bard's scheduled start Sunday was rained out at Fenway Park, and the Red Sox elected to skip his turn in the rotation instead of pushing the rest of their starters back. Bard last started April 16.
"It was the same thing I've done for the last few years," Bard said. "I mean, it's a little weird just being out there just because I haven't done it this year yet. It's like riding a bike. I had a pretty well-established routine the last three years, four years. It was pretty easy to get back into it."
Valentine said he considered bring Bard back out for the ninth. Bard was curious, too.
"I just asked if I was still out there," Bard said. "He just said if we took the lead, [closer Alfredo Aceves] was in. If it was tied, I would've gone back out."
Before Bard threw Monday, he said it wasn't his decision what role would best benefit the team, but he cautioned Valentine and general manager Ben Cherington that he is not a cure-all.
"That's the one thing I told them right away," Bard said. "I'm totally willing to do this ... and told them it's their decision how to use me. I was OK with it. ... I'm not going to be able to make eight guys pitch better. I can go down and do what I can, and if that offers maybe some comfort to the other guys and let's guys fall into their roles, maybe it can help everybody."
Accepting as he was of the move, Bard did want to know where the Red Sox were coming from.
"I asked a lot of questions as to what their goals were in this," Bard said. "They said right now they have every intention of it being temporary and making my start on Friday. That's where I'm at right now. I still view myself as a starter, and they said that they do, too. That's where they said they want me in the long run. For now, they said they'll try to address a need for a couple days and keep me from going 10 days without throwing, as well. [I] told them I was OK with it."
Valentine said the team, too, values Bard more as a starter, while not fully closing the door on the possibility of Bard returning to a relief job. Aaron Cook is 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA at Triple-A Pawtucket and can opt out of his contract if he's not on the big league roster by May 1, and Daisuke Matsuzaka started his return from Tommy John surgery with a rehab outing at Class-A Salem on Monday. Both could be starting pitching options in place of Bard in the next few weeks.
"It doesn't look like it's a great temptation," Valentine said of keeping Bard in the bullpen. "Daniel's pretty well set on being a starter. He's pitched real well in the starting rotation."
Aviles, Valentine deny report of spring rift
MINNEAPOLIS -- Mike Aviles and Bobby Valentine on Monday were both quick to quash the idea that they had an early Spring Training rift.
The New York Daily News reported that Valentine was overly critical of his shortstop during infield drills in the first week of camp. The News quoted a source as saying the scene was "very ugly," and that a group of Red Sox players confronted Valentine asking for him to apologize to Aviles.
"I don't even know where he got that," Aviles said of the column's author, Bill Madden. "In all honesty, I don't know where that source came out. That's news to me. I don't remember having a run-in with Bobby at all. You guys know more than I do, because I don't know anything about it."
Valentine said before the opener of a three-game series with the Twins that the issue was news to him as well.
"I just heard about it," Valentine said. "It goes from the sublime to ridiculous, doesn't it, around here? Or around there?"
Valentine's response turned sarcastic.
"Those New York writers," he said. "But if we're going to do full-disclosure, which we better do that, the team party that I threw, I spilled a Coke on one of the players' wives. And I apologized."
Aviles said Valentine did work closely with him in spring as any new manager would naturally.
"He's a new manager with a new team, so of course he's going to have different instruction, different talk," Aviles said. "We were talking from the first day of Spring Training. He had some things to help me out with at short, because I didn't play there much last year. He helped me out with a couple of things."
Dice-K allows three runs in first rehab outing
MINNEAPOLIS -- Red Sox right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka's first rehab outing in the Minors following Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow lasted four innings on Monday for Class-A Salem in Virginia.
Matsuzaka threw 40 of 57 pitches for strikes, struck out three and walked none against the Wilmington Blue Rocks, a Royals affiliate. Matsuzaka allowed a pair of home runs, including one to the first batter he faced, Whit Merrifield. Overall, Dice-K allowed three runs on six hits.
In the outfield department, Carl Crawford (left elbow) served as a designated hitter in extended spring game Monday, while Jacoby Ellsbury, who is traveling with the big league team in Minnesota, showed further improvement in the range of motion he's capable of in his subluxed (partially dislocated) right shoulder.