FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — For Manny Ramirez, the request was hardly a veteran spring training move. He wanted to play, though, so he asked Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon if he could take the trip.
Joe Nathan pitched a perfect inning for Minnesota in the closer’s second appearance in his comeback from major elbow surgery, and the Twins beat an eager Ramirez and the Rays 5-4 on Friday.
Ramirez was not originally on the travel roster for the game, but Maddon obliged when Ramirez asked to be added. He started in left field and hit a two-out double off the left-field wall in the first, the only hit allowed by Twins starter Kevin Slowey over three scoreless innings.
The 38-year-old Ramirez declined an interview request. He is playing for his fifth team, entering his 19th major league season. This marked his first return to Fort Myers since playing for the Boston Red Sox in 2008. Maddon said he’s counting on Ramirez to split time as the designated hitter and in left field, with the goal of keeping him healthy for the full season.
“Manny’s been wonderful,” Maddon said. “He’s been very entertaining. He’s working very hard, offensively and defensively. He’s working on his baserunning. He’s working on his whole game right now. I couldn’t ask for more.”
Likewise, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire could not have asked for more from Nathan so far. The right-hander, who had ligament replacement surgery on his elbow last March, got two flyouts and struck out one in the fifth inning. He hasn’t allowed a run in two appearances.
“It really started to feel like my timing is getting better,” Nathan said. “It’s getting more comfortable. I’m having positive outings. I threw fewer pitches today. The ones I did throw, I felt good about.”
The scoreboard radar gun at Hammond Stadium, not a reliable source of speed, showed Nathan’s fastball hitting 95 mph. Nathan said his velocity has returned, however, and he’s grateful for that.
“I don’t know why it came back so quick, but I’m glad it did,” Nathan said. “I felt like my command has been pretty decent throughout the course of this rehab process. At the same time, it’s nice to go out there and get into a rhythm and get some guys out. Command has always been something I’ve tried to use as my strength. I don’t think I’ve ever gone out there and tried to overpower a guy.”
Evan Longoria had an RBI single for the Rays, and B.J. Upton was 1 for 3 with a run scored.
Matt Tolbert scored the go-ahead run in the eighth after entering the game as a pinch-runner. Tolbert is competing for a utility spot on Minnesota’s bench. Also for the Twins, Jason Kubel drove in three runs, and Denard Span was 2 for 3 with a run scored.
NOTES: Twins C Joe Mauer might catch a bullpen session on Sunday, which would be his first step toward appearing in a game following minor offseason knee surgery. RF Michael Cuddyer will be out at least another week after having a wart removed from his foot. LF Delmon Young’s return from a turf toe injury has been delayed at least a few more days after the condition flared up again. … Rays starter Jeff Niemann gave up six runs — four earned — off seven hits during two innings of a B-squad game. Francisco Liriano started that game for the Twins and gave up two walks, one run and three hits with one strikeout and one hit batter in two innings.
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