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Updated: July 16th, 2010 6:19pm
Notebook: Joe Nathan to throw on Saturday; Scott Baker feeling better

Notebook: Joe Nathan to throw on Saturday; Scott Baker feeling better

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Manager Ron Gardenhire accurately called it a "baby step," but it's one that means something to Joe Nathan.

On Saturday, for the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery on March 26, the Minnesota Twins' injured All-Star closer will throw a baseball.

"I'm excited about it," Nathan said in the Twins clubhouse at Target Field before Friday's game against the Chicago White Sox.

"I know it's just going to be playing catch from about 45 feet, but it's exciting to do something to break up the monotony of what I've been doing."

The work will be limited -- about 20 throws from less than the distance from the pitcher's rubber to home plate. But it's just the start of a roughly five-month throwing program before Nathan gets to throw off a mound, continuing the rehabilitation of his surgically repaired throwing elbow the veteran hopes will have him ready for the 2011 opener.

"He's not going to go out and play long toss, do anything like that," Gardenhire said. "He's going to pick up a ball and just kind of flip it nice and easy, and then you can work from there."

New York Mets team doctor Dr. David Altcheck performed the procedure on March 26 to replace the torn ulnar collateral ligament in Nathan's right elbow with a tendon from his left wrist. So far, there have been no significant setbacks.

"But we're about four months through and we've still got another five months to go," Nathan said. "There's still a lot of time for things to -- hopefully go right, but you've still got to be cautious."

Nathan has been seen often at Target Field but recently has been working out near his home in Knoxville, Tenn., where he'll split time over the next two months or so before returning home for good in late September (with the exception of trips to join his teammates if they make the playoffs).

Asked if it's been tough to watch the Twins' recent struggles from home, Nathan said, "It's tough regardless. If they're going well or if they're going in a slump -- it's tough either way, because you want to be a part of it. You want to be a part of the team and hanging out with the guys.

"It's tough being away from them, but at the same time, I know what they have to go through. It's just the way it has to be now. For me to come back and rehab through it, a lot of it's going to be on my own and with the trainers and away from the guys. It's just the nature of the beast.

"Guys have been through it before, and I'm not going to be the last. You've just got to grin and bare it and get through it and know that the time you're putting in is going to help you for when you come back."

BAKER FEELING BETTER
Right-hander Scott Baker, who is slated to start on Monday, threw a bullpen session on Friday without running into any issues with his tender right throwing elbow.

"We were very concerned about that, that it would still be there, but it's not," Gardenhire said. "He feels great today. He was letting it fly and threw a bullpen session with no restrictions, so that was a really good sign for us."

Gardenhire said Baker wouldn't be under any tighter pitch count than usual.

BACKUP PLAN
With Michael Cuddyer in the lineup a second straight night at first base, Gardenhire said he hadn't figured out who else would play there in a pinch while Justin Morneau (concussion) is on the disabled list.

Nick Punto likely is the first option, and Gardenhire said backup catcher Drew Butera could handle the job, too.

One player who's not an option: designated hitter Jim Thome, who played first base much of his career but isn't exactly mobile at age 39.

"No -- not unless Thome would consider saying, 'Gardy, I'll go play first,'" Gardenhire said. "I really don't want to take too many chances with Thome."

QUICK HITS
• Morneau wasn't at the ballpark on Friday and probably won't resume working out until Monday.

• A day after staying home with the flu, LHP Brian Duensing was at Target Field and available for Friday's game. RHP Jeff Manship, who was recalled from Class-AAA Rochester late Thursday night, also was available.

• Gardenhire said communication was fine between RHP Kevin Slowey and C Joe Mauer during Slowey's latest lousy start on Thursday. "It's not even about that -- it's about locating the baseball more than anything else. You want to communicate and you want to talk, you want to (make sure you're) calling the right pitch at the right time. But like last night, (the ball) was all over the place. It was up. (If) he was trying to throw the ball away, he was throwing it inside. If he's trying to throw inside, he's throwing it away. That was the (problem) last night. It wasn't about anything other than that."

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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