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Updated: April 20th, 2010 5:29pm
Pregame notes: Punto to sit, Neshek not ready yet

Pregame notes: Punto to sit, Neshek not ready yet

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Manager Ron Gardenhire originally hinted last weekend that starting third baseman Nick Punto would be ready to go for tonight's game against the Cleveland Indians, but Brendan Harris will get the start in stead.


Punto said he expects to be ready either Wednesday or Thursday, although he should be available in an emergency situation tonight.

"I'm making a lot of progress every day, so it should be close," said Punto, who suffered a similar groin injury in May of last season.

"I caught it a little earlier [last year]," Punto said. "I had to go on the DL last time."

Gardenhire also said right-hander Pat Neshek (finger) remains unavailable to pitch.

"Neshek's finger is sore," Gardenhire said. "We were hoping that he'd get out and be able to throw today... But it's a lot better than it was, so hopefully within the next day or two we'll get him out there and throw."

Neshek, who received a cortisone shot on Sunday morning, originally felt soreness in the middle finger of his pitching hand during the Angels series nearly two weeks ago. He pitched through the soreness at the beginning of the homestand, but eventually was forced to shut it down.

"I keep saying we'll have to do something eventually," Gardenhire said, referring to placing Neshek on the 15-day disabled list. "But we're trying to give him as much time as we can."

Reliever Clay Condrey, who remains on the disabled list with a sore right arm, is not expected to be ready anytime during the next week.  

* Kevin Slowey (10 1/3 IP, eight strikeouts, six walks, 3.48 ERA) will face Justin Masterson (11 IP, 14 strikeouts, two walks, 2.45 ERA) tonight.

In his brief career so far, Masterson has allowed lefties to hit .299/.395/.461, as opposed to .200/.280/.299. This would be a perfect opportunity for Gardenhire to leverage Masterson's drastic lefty/righty platoon split by inserting Jim Thome in the lineup, but instead Delmon Young will start in left and bat seventh.

That said, the Twins will likely face numerous right-handed pitchers throughout the season who have similar lefty/righty splits.

"Delmon knows he's the left fielder, and that's comfortable for him," Gardenhire said. "He knows we're going to mix it up once in a while with Thome too, but he understands match-ups more about the game, and sometimes you see numbers that don't work and you put the other guys in there.

"I think it's probably more comfortable coming to the ballpark knowing you've got a pretty good opportunity to be playing."

* After Kevin Slowey's last start, Ron Gardenhire pulled him behind closed doors to chat about the young right-hander's propensity to shake off catcher Joe Mauer too frequently. Keep an eye on how many trips Mauer makes to the mound tonight.

* Dome-field advantage? Ha! The Twins are tied for the league lead with 15 infield hits.

* Through 12 games, the Indians -- with a team slugging percentage of .343 -- have one of the most punchless lineups in all of baseball. They've also struggled to put runners on base (.313 on-base percentage).

The one savior in the lineup so far has been right fielder Shin-Soo Choo (.350/.500/.725, four home runs, 12 RBI), who certainly isn't a household name yet, but could very well be on his way.

Grady Sizemore (.231/.318/.410, zero home runs, three walks), Travis Hafner (.231/.340/.333, one home run), Matt Laporta (.216/.275/.270, zero home runs), and Jhonny Peralta (.135/.283/.270, one home run) are all off to slow starts, which makes it somewhat miraculous that Cleveland has managed to win six games.

Credit solid starting pitching by youngsters David Huff, Justin Masterson, and Mitch Talbot. Fausto Carmona (3.60 ERA), who the Twins will not face in this series, has managed to pitch his way around 12 walks in 20 innings to start the season, but he'll need to find better command if he wants that ERA to stay south of 4.00.

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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