Notebook: 'Everything has gone wrong' for Nishioka; Plouffe struggling
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MINNEAPOLIS -- It goes without saying that Tsuyoshi Nishioka's first year in a Minnesota Twins uniform has been a colossal disappointment on many levels.
"The pain has been decreasing, but to be pain-free I think it's right to give it a rest," Nishioka said through his translator Ryo Shinkawa on Saturday.
Nishioka will finish the season having played in only 68 games. His .226/.278/.249 batting line with only five extra-base hits makes him one of the worst hitters in the major leagues -- this just one year after a .347 average earned him the Japanese Pacific League batting title.
"It's been a season where everything has gone wrong," Nishioka said. "In life, there are years like this, and I think 2011 was a year where everything went the other way. But I've got to look at it as it's one year and refocus on next year."
Nishioka, in good nature, referenced the "American media pounding" he has taken, adding, "Hopefully I can make you guys regret it next year."
Problem is, Nishioka isn't guaranteed starting infield job next season, nor is he guaranteed a spot on the 25-man roster despite his $3 million salary. A major league source confirmed last week that Nishioka's contract does not prevent him from being demoted to Triple-A Rochester.
Nishioka plans to head back to Japan after the season ends on Sept. 28, and the Twins have instructed to work on his upper-body strength this offseason.
Nishioka said the Japanese season ends in late September as well, and he would usually take October, November and December off from baseball activities, "But this year I'm hoping to get back and practice from October (on)."
"His legs and everything else are good and strong," Gardenhire said. "His upper body is not as strong as I think he can be. If he can get upper-body strength, that's going to help him with his swing. (Strength and conditioning coordinator) Perry (Castellano) has a good program written up for him. And I know Nishioka has a good program over there. He works hard."
Plouffe regressing again?
For a while in August it appeared as if Trevor Plouffe had turned the corner defensively at shortstop, but he has since hit more road blocks. Plouffe made two errors in Wednesday's game at Kansas City, then side-armed an errant throw on Friday night.
"He's scuffled lately at making plays that really we have to make," Gardenhire said. "And I don't know if he's just relaxed enough, he's comfortable back up here, he knows he's going to play and lost a little bit of the edge, I don't know. Because there's been some sloppy, sloppy play out there when he was going along really, really good and really focused on it. So that just tells you a little bit about the game up here.
"You can't let your guard down. You're going along, and I don't know if he's done that, I don't think so. He seems like he's intense and he's doing all of this work, but he's gotten a little sloppy out there lately, and he knows it."
Despite the fact that Nishioka is guaranteed $6 million over the next two seasons, Plouffe could grab hold of the starting shortstop job heading into 2012 if he simply eliminates errant throws. The Twins can probably live with below-average range and a booted grounder or two if Plouffe's bat continues to show pop.
But it's a red flag to see the same problems that plagued him early in the season pop back up in the season's final few weeks.
"He has to be better than that," Gardenhire said. "I'm not going to watch it. Not going to watch it at third, I'm not going to watch it at short. We have to catch the ball. If we've got pitchers that are pitching to contact -- and it looks like that's probably going to be our staff again, with the mixture of some of these guys, we don't have a 95-98 strike-'em-out guy -- then we've got to catch the ball. You can't play like this."
No job is safe
Gardenhire made it clear Saturday that no player has job security heading into spring training next season.
"After a year like this, everybody's going to have to earn a job in spring training. And I do mean everybody. For one thing, I don't know what I'm going to have in spring training. But this is going to be a wide open spring training. People are going to have to show me they can catch the ball and we can play, and we can get the outs we're supposed to. That's what's going to happen in spring training."
Traveling light to New York
The Twins head to New York for a matinee make-up game with the Yankees on Monday, but due to injuries, illnesses and logistics, several players will not travel.
That list includes all four starting pitchers except Scott Diamond, who is scheduled to pitch Monday (Liam Hendriks, Anthony Swarzak, Carl Pavano, Kevin Slowey), and banged-up players Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Alexi Casilla, Nishioka, and perhaps Jason Kubel, who left Friday's game with more pain in his left foot.