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Updated: June 16th, 2011 6:17pm
Mackey: Nishioka's return signals giant wave of upcoming roster moves

Mackey: Nishioka's return signals giant wave of upcoming roster moves

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- Tsuyoshi Nishioka's return on Thursday marked the initial ripple in a giant flood of roster moves likely facing the Twins over the next couple weeks.

Despite booting a 6-4-3 double-play opportunity in the sixth inning, Nishioka looked comfortable and capable defensively in his first game at shortstop. He helped turn two groundball double plays, made several routine plays and also made two long-ranging plays in the hole with strong throws to first -- both late, but still.

At the plate, Nishioka finished 1-for-4 with an infield single and two strikeouts.

"During the minor league rehab I didn't have (many) balls come at me, so it's good that I got two grounders out of the way in the first inning," Nishioka said through his translator, Ryo Shinkawa. "It was good that it wasn't as difficult of me to kind of settle into the game and be in my rhythm. ...

"Honestly, opening day I think I had a little nerves, and that got to me a little bit. But I think today the home fans kind of pushed my back and I was able to enjoy it and play out there."

After the game, the Twins officially activated catcher Joe Mauer and left-hander Glen Perkins from the disabled list, replacing utility man Brian Dinkelman and left-hander Chuck James on the 25-man roster.

That leaves manager Ron Gardenhire with a collection that looks like this:

Catchers (3): Mauer, Rene Rivera, Drew Butera
Infielders (5): Nishioka, Alexi Casilla, Danny Valencia, Luke Hughes, Matt Tolbert
Outfielders (5): Michael Cuddyer, Delmon Young, Ben Revere, Jason Repko, Rene Tosoni
Starters (5): Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Nick Blackburn, Scott Baker, Brian Duensing
Relievers (7): Perkins, RHP Matt Capps, RHP Alex Burnett, LHP Jose Mijares, RHP Anthony Swarzak, LHP Phil Dumatrait, RHP Jim Hoey

"We have a long-term (roster) plan eventually, to figure a few things out, but our plans went kind of nuts," Gardenhire said. "Every time we make a plan, somebody else gets hurt and goes on the DL. So we're trying to stay as close to day-by-day as we can."

If you're scoring at home, here's where the roster situation gets more complicated...

• Right-hander Joe Nathan will check in with team doctors Friday before heading out on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Rochester. After two or three outings, he could be ready to return when the Twins visit Milwaukee on June 24.

• Outfielder Jason Kubel's foot responded well to running on Wednesday, and he could return to game action -- a rehab assignment or otherwise -- by the end of next week.

• Designated hitter Jim Thome has been taking swings in Fort Myers, and Gardenhire hinted strongly he'd like to have the veteran's bat off the bench when the team travels to San Francisco and Milwaukee next week.

Denard Span was eligible to return from the seven-day concussion DL on Thursday, but he hasn't yet begun baseball activities. Still, the outfielder will likely be back sometime in the near future.

• First baseman Justin Morneau will have his wrist immobilized in a cast until approximately June 24 before beginning a swinging program.

"We're doing the best we can," Gardenhire said. "You can't have a plan until you know when people are coming back. We have no idea when these young men are coming back, with the Spans and the Kubels, so you can't have a plan until you find out when they're going to be available. And the same way with Thome too."

Not to mention, the Twins can't carry three catchers all season, meaning either Butera or Rivera must go back to Triple-A Rochester -- likely before the Twins hit the road on Tuesday, per Gardenhire.

What will the roster look like?

• Nathan will likely take the place of Hoey or Swarzak, each of whom have minor league options remaining. Dumatrait is another possibility, but he's out of options, and the Twins would risk losing him to another team via waivers.

Hoey is the logical assumption, because Swarzak has pitched better and can fill more roles. That leaves these seven men in the bullpen:

Relievers (7): Capps, (L) Perkins, Burnett, Nathan, (L) Mijares, Swarzak, (L) Dumatrait

• Thome will likely return before Span and Kubel, and the best guess is that he replaces one of the catchers -- possibly Butera, based on Rivera's success catching Liriano -- leaving the position-player portion of the roster to look like this:

Catchers (2): Mauer, Rivera
Infielders (5): Nishioka, Casilla, Valencia, Hughes, Tolbert
Outfielders (5): Cuddyer, Young, Revere, Repko, Tosoni
DH (1): Thome

• It's a toss-up for who comes back sooner between Span and Kubel, but they will likely replace Tosoni and Repko, who both have an option(s) remaining. The Twins have reached the point of no return with Revere, who has been at the epicenter of a June resurgence.

• Barring more injuries -- which is entirely possible, if not probable -- Morneau could represent the final roster puzzle piece. Based on the above scenarios, he would likely replace Hughes, Tolbert or Valencia. Gardenhire has hinted strongly over the past week that Valencia needs to start producing more, but ultimately Hughes probably still sits slightly lower in the pecking order.

In that case, the roster could theoretically look like this at some point in early July:

Catchers (2): Mauer, Rivera
Infielders (5): Morneau, Nishioka, Casilla, Valencia, Tolbert
Outfielders (5): Cuddyer, Young, Revere, Span, Kubel
DH (1): Thome
Starters (5): Pavano, Liriano, Blackburn, Baker, Duensing
Relievers (7): Capps, (L) Perkins, Burnett, Nathan, (L) Mijares, Swarzak, (L) Dumatrait

Theoretically.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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