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Updated: May 8th, 2010 9:23pm
Joe Mauer returns

Joe Mauer returns

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Joe Mauer is back. Sort of.

The Minnesota Twins' All-Star catcher drew a standing ovation and chants of "MVP!" as he came on to pinch-hit in the eighth inning of tonight's game against Baltimore -- his first plate appearance since injuring his left heel on April 30 at Kansas City.

The Orioles had intentionally walked Nick Punto to load the bases with one out for Alexi Casilla, but Mauer took Casilla's place and worked the count to 3-1 before reliever Matt Albers struck him out swinging on consecutive high fastballs.

Oddly enough, the next hitter was backup catcher Drew Butera, who roped a line drive into left field two pitches later to score two and extend the Twins' lead to 6-1.

Mauer's appearance, of course, was a positive sign for his chances of returning to the starting lineup sooner than later. After Sunday's series finale against Baltimore, the Twins have an off-day and then open a two-game series against the Chicago White Sox.

UPDATE, 10:29 p.m.: Manager Ron Gardenhire said Mauer probably will start Sunday's game as the designated hitter.

Coaches actually discussed DHing Mauer tonight, too, even though Gardenhire said he would have pinch-run for Mauer had he reached base in the eighth inning.

"He bounced around between games," Gardenhire said. "He got in there, was squatting, and he was bouncing out like he was fielding bunts. He said it all feels good. I think the big thing is ... stopping when he's running, and he hasn't had to jam on the brakes and stop at a base and all those things.

"You know what? They keep telling me in there he's fine to DH. The squatting -- let's see how he gets through this DH, running around a little bit, and we'll probably run him out there (Sunday)."

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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