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Updated: April 25th, 2011 4:35pm
Twins Daily: Letting Nathan close was 'the way it should have been'

Twins Daily: Letting Nathan close was 'the way it should have been'

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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After sweeping a short series against the Cleveland Indians over the weekend, the Minnesota Twins have an off day Monday before beginning a three-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday at Target Field.

Numbers game

91.1: The average velocity of Joe Nathan's fastball this season through his first eight outings. Prior to Tommy John surgery in 2009, Nathan's fastball averaged 93.6 miles per hour. Nathan pitched a scoreless inning on Saturday, and he will continue to pitch in low leverage situations until further notice.

"The one thing you have to do, starting the season off -- and (people) wondered about him being our closer -- you have to find out, he had to find out, we had to find out what we had and where he's at," manager Ron Gardenhire said Sunday.

"You start him off as our closer. The other role wasn't really set up for him to start the season. Closing was the way it should have been. We close him, see how everything goes, and if it doesn't work out right away we can make adjustments. And this is where we saw, and I think he had to see it too. He's worked awfully hard, and you put him in that role, now he sees that he's still got some work left. It makes it easy for all of us to work our way back to it. And sometimes you have to have a little bit of a setback to get where you need to be. And he's had a little setback. So now we can move forward from that."

10-14: The Twins' record against the Rays since 2008, which includes losing three out of four in Tampa earlier this month.

Health watch

• OF Delmon Young (ribs) took batting practice over the weekend with no ill effects, and he also had an MRI turn out negative. Gardenhire said Young will likely return to the lineup on Tuesday against the Rays.

• 1B Justin Morneau (flu, neck) returned to action over the weekend, collecting four hits and a walk in nine plate appearances. Morneau roped three singles and a double and drove in four runs.

• C Joe Mauer (bilateral leg weakness, flu) is eligible to return from the disabled list on Thursday, but it's highly unlikely he'll be able to do so. Mauer has not yet resumed baseball activities, and Gardenhire said the former MVP will almost certainly require a rehab stint somewhere.

On deck

Left-hander Francisco Liriano (1-3, 7.40 ERA) hopes to carry the momentum from his previous start when he faces Rays right-hander Wade Davis (2-2, 2.73) in game one of a three-game series on Friday night (7:10 p.m., 1500 ESPN).

After allowing 15 earned runs in his first three starts combined, Liriano allowed only two earned runs in 6 2/3 innings against the Orioles on April 18. His fastball velocity was back to 93-94 mph as well.

Davis pitched against the Twins on April 15, allowing just one earned run in seven innings.

Coming up

• Wednesday: vs. Tampa Bay, 7:10 p.m. RHP Nick Blackburn (1-3, 4.01) vs. Jeff Niemann (0-3, 7.08).
• Thursday: vs. Tampa Bay, 12:10 p.m. RHP Scott Baker (1-2, 3.24) vs. Jeremy Hellickson (1-2, 4.32).
• Friday: @ Kansas City, 7:10 p.m. LHP Brian Duensing (2-0, 3.00 ERA) vs. LHP Bruce Chen (3-1, 3.86).

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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