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Updated: June 29th, 2010 6:21pm
Notebook: With lineup decisions looming, it's tough to keep Thome out

Notebook: With lineup decisions looming, it's tough to keep Thome out

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Pretty soon Fox Sports Net may have to think about adding Jim Thome to the Twins' 50 greatest players list.

OK, maybe not quite yet.

But Thome -- at $1.5 million -- has been worth every penny so far this season for the Twins. After a 2-for-3 performance on Monday night that included a solo shot to left and his first triple since 2004, Thome is now hitting .252/.387/.541 with seven home runs.

Regarding the triple -- a towering shot to right field that bounced off the corner of the video scoreboard -- manager Ron Gardenhire was amused.

"I was just like you and everybody else -- I was entertaining myself," Gardenhire said. "I was laughing and watching him run and the whole dugout was, too. You become a fan when that happens."

With shortstop J.J. Hardy potentially making his return this weekend against the Rays, Gardenhire will have a decision to make. Does Michael Cuddyer continue to play third base, with Nick Punto moving to a super-utility role? That would allow Thome to play more regularly, specifically against right-handed pitching.

Or will Punto return to third base, Cuddyer to right field, and Thome to the bench?

"You just kind of take it day by day. If he hits triples, we'll probably say one or two days and he's going to have to have a week," Gardenhire said jokingly. "If he just keeps hitting those home runs and singles, he'll be fine. It depends on how much we go out here and how his body feels. He tells me.

"We've got a day game (Wednesday) -- not positive about how he's going to feel (Wednesday). We'll let him go out there and swing. He had nine days of National League baseball to rest. He should be pretty good right now."

Ultimately, the Twins were rolling along well in early April with Punto at third and Hardy at shortstop. As long as Hardy is hitting, that combination provides the best balance between offense and defense.

Then again, any lineup that features Delmon Young batting eighth out of necessity is probably pretty fun for a manager to pencil in every day.

NOTES

* Speaking of Hardy, he took batting practice and went through pregame workouts once again, and the plan is for him to head out on a rehab assignment on Wednesday. Update: Hardy will begin a rehab assignment with Class-A Beloit on Wednesday.

As mentioned, if all goes well, he could return to the big league club on Saturday or Sunday.

"He's swinging good, he feels good, his legs feel good," Gardenhire said. "If he goes down there and gets in some game situations, we'll see after a few ballgames here where he's at by Friday night. Let him get through that and maybe Saturday and Sunday here. Who knows? We'll see."

* Tigers RHP Joel Zumaya spoke to reporters this afternoon about the gruesome elbow injury he sustained last night. Zumaya said it felt like someone took a hammer and shattered his elbow.

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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