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Updated: June 28th, 2010 5:51pm
Notebook: J.J. Hardy could return this weekend

Notebook: J.J. Hardy could return this weekend

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Shortstop J.J. Hardy, who has missed all but 12 games since May 4 with a bone bruise in his left wrist, is ahead of schedule and feeling much better.

Hardy took batting practice today and reported no pain, as opposed to the first time he was reactivated from the disabled list on May 25.

"Before, I still felt pain, I just thought I could play through it," Hardy said. "This time I feel like there's no pain in there at all -- like it never happened."

Hardy described the pain in his left wrist as a "four or a five" on a scale of 1-10 when he initially came off the disabled list at the end of May. This time, "I don't feel anything in there," Hardy said.

"It feels really good."

Hardy said the plan is for him to stick around Target Field through Tuesday, taking batting practice and working out with the team, before possibly heading off to a rehab assignment on Wednesday.

"If everything goes well, there's an outside chance I could return before the weekend is over," Hardy said. "That's kind of what I'm shooting for."

NOTES

* The Twins have used a plethora of replacements for Hardy at shortstop, including Nick Punto, Trevor Plouffe, Matt Tolbert, and even Alexi Casilla, who is also close to a rehab assignment.

Casilla, who had surgery earlier this month to remove bone spurs in his elbow, took batting practice from both sides of the plate today. He also took groundballs, and it's possible he could be sent on a rehab assignment within a week.

"You've got to tell Alexi to calm down a little bit," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I've had the same surgery, and you start feeling real good, you start feeling goosey, and you start overthrowing it. He'll get sore. So stay with the timeframe as best you can. If you're ahead a little bit, that's all good and fine. He'll get going pretty quick too."

* Gardenhire's strategy for tonight's game is certainly no secret. He wants to cram as many big bats into the lineup as possible. That's why Michael Cuddyer is starting at third base once again, with Jim Thome DHing. Delmon Young -- one of the team's hottest hitters -- will bat eighth.

"Just trying to get Thome's bat in the lineup," Gardenhire said. "He's been sitting for however many days through this National League stuff -- a pinch hit here, a pinch hit there -- so I want to get him swinging, get him comfortable. Cuddy can go over there and do that every once in a while, and that's a good thing. It makes our lineup pretty deep."

When asked whether Cuddyer playing third base is a permanent thing, Gardenhire said, "It's permanent tonight, for about eight innings. We'll see where we go from there."

It'll be interesting to see how the lineup shakes out when Hardy returns. It probably makes the most sense to put Punto back at third base, with Hardy at shortstop, thus creating one of the best defensive infields in baseball.

Keep in mind, Hardy has a track record of offensive success, and he was hitting .250/.299/.400 before injuring his wrist on May 4 -- and those numbers were rising.

* Francisco Liriano (6-5, 3.11) battles Jeremy Bonderman (3-5, 4.20) tonight. Remember what happened last time Bonderman faced the Twins? He plunked Young, who then turned and started screaming at Jose Mijares for throwing behind Adam Everett earlier in the game.

Bonderman was suspended for the incident.

With all due respect to Carl Pavano's successes this season, Liriano has been the Twins' most dominant pitcher, with 100 strikeouts and only 25 walks and two strikeouts in 92 2/3 innings. The two home runs allowed are tied for the fewest among all qualified starting pitchers.

This is a far cry from the 21 bombs Liriano allowed in 136 2/3 innings last year.

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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