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05/21/08 9:30 PM ET

Punto embarks on rehab for hamstring

Infielder will return next Friday to muddled lineup, baby

MINNEAPOLIS -- Twins infielder Nick Punto is about to become a first-time father. But first he must head to Fort Myers, Fla., on a rehab assignment.

Punto will go to Fort Myers on Friday to begin his rehab stint, which is not expected to last longer than a week. Punto will be back in the Twin Cities by the following Friday, when his wife, Natalie, is scheduled to have her labor induced.

Punto injured his left hamstring on May 7 against Chicago. He's eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list on Friday, but the injury has taken longer to heal than expected. He said he has been able to take ground balls and batting practice.

"It's just about getting to that full-speed run," Punto said. "It's getting a little better every day, the running part."

About four days ago, Punto had said he was disappointed by the injury being slow to heal.

"For five days there was a little stalemate where it just wasn't getting any better," Punto said. "About two days ago it started healing up really good."

Manager Ron Gardenhire said he didn't think Punto would need a lengthy rehab. The player concurred, saying he guessed he would be game ready by next Wednesday. He will then fly back on the Thursday and the baby will be born that Friday morning.

"A crazy and hectic time," Punto said.

Punto will return to a muddled middle-infield situation. Although Matt Tolbert will need at least two months to recover from a torn ligament in his left thumb, Gardenhire will have at least four options for two positions in Punto, Alexi Casilla, Brendan Harris and Adam Everett.

Gardenhire has been a bit frustrated by the defensive play of his middle infield so far this season, and it's led to some shifting around at the positions. While Harris earned the starting spot at second base coming out of Spring Training, he hasn't adjusted to the spot as easily as the Twins had hoped. The Twins like Harris' bat, which has been one reason the team has tried to keep him in the lineup. Gardenhire said that Harris would probably get the start at shortstop during Thursday's day game. It's the position he played primarily last season for Tampa Bay.

However, none of the middle infield options, including Harris, has been strong offensively for the Twins this season. Harris has hit .262 with an OPS of .690. Everett has endured an especially cold start, batting .183 with little power and an OPS of .527.

Casilla has been hot at the plate in his short time since being recalled from Triple-A Rochester. Coming into Wednesday, he went 3-for-8 with a home run and five RBIs in the last two games. He was in the starting lineup for the third straight game Wednesday night. Casilla was charged with his first error of the season Tuesday night, but Gardenhire thought the call was questionable because the play would have been difficult to complete. Still, the Twins skipper has acknowledged that Casilla is still a work in progress.

All of this has led to speculation that Punto could get regular time at second base when he returns.

"If Nick is in one of the best lineups out there that gets it done, then he will be out there," Gardenhire said. "I like Everett, he does fine. Honestly, he has good at-bats. I know he isn't hitting a lot, but he has had quality at-bats. He has a good eye at the plate, he can handle the bat. We will see how it goes. If Nicky is playing better than him out there, I wouldn't be afraid to put him out there, or at second, too."

Thor Nystrom is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.