© 2014 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

5/9/2014 7:15 P.M. ET

Gardy indicates Mauer nearing return to lineup

DETROIT -- Joe Mauer was held out of the starting lineup for a fifth straight game on Friday against the Tigers, but he is getting closer to making a return, according to Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.

Mauer, who hasn't played since experiencing lower back spasms during Sunday's game against the Orioles, was scheduled to take soft toss on the field before the game, but the tarp was on the field because of light rain at Comerica Park. So Mauer had to settle with hitting in the batting cages, and didn't have any issues.

"He took some swings in the cage and soft toss and all that stuff, and did OK," Gardenhire said. "We had early BP set up, but it just didn't work out."

Gardenhire said the Twins remain hopeful Mauer could return by Saturday or Sunday as a designated hitter. The Twins are in a waiting game, as they don't want to place him on the 15-day disabled list just yet because it means he wouldn't be eligible to return until May 20 against the Padres.

"I would love to have him, but if he's not healthy, he's not going to help us," Gardenhire said. "We're trying to make a decision here and give him every bit of time we can because if he is healthy and can come back Saturday or Sunday, it's better than the DL because then he'd be out most of next week, too. So, we're trying to do that. We're getting by, but you can only do that so long."

Willingham will take on-field batting practice

DETROIT -- Outfielder Josh Willingham is set to take batting practice on the field on Saturday to mark the first time he's been able to do that since going on the 15-day disabled list on April 7 with a small fracture in his left wrist.

Willingham, who originally injured his wrist when he was hit by a pitch from Indians right-hander Justin Masterson on April 6, took Friday off from swinging. But he took 20 swings during soft toss and tee drills on both Wednesday and Thursday.

Willingham is expected to go out on a rehab assignment once he's cleared to play, as he hasn't played in a game for more than a month.

Willingham, 35, was hitting .294/.435/.353 with a double and an RBI in six games before the injury.

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.