MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Struggling middle infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka was on Minnesota’s bench Friday night after a rough start to his first stint with the Twins this season.
Nishioka was not in the lineup against Tampa Bay after playing all three games in Cleveland earlier this week, making three errors at second base plus several other mistakes in the field and going 0 for 12 with one sacrifice fly at the plate.
Alexi Casilla, who hit his first home run of the year Wednesday, played second base against the Rays. Jamey Carroll was at third base, with Brian Dozier at shortstop.
“We’re going to play everybody, as always. That’s just the way it’s going to be,” said manager Ron Gardenhire, who grew irritated after Wednesday’s loss to the Indians when reporters asked him about Nishioka’s status on the team. “We’ll see how we go day to day. Alexi’s going to play. Alexi swung good the other day. Jamey’s been picking it over there, so you play the guys you feel give you the best chance to win each night.”
Signed to a three-year, $9.25 million contract before the 2011 season after the Twins bid more than $5.3 million with his Japanese team to gain negotiating rights, Nishioka broke his lower left leg just five games in when he stayed too close to the base while trying to turn a double play and New York Yankees slugger Nick Swisher slid into him.
Nishioka returned in June but never found a rhythm, finishing with a .226 batting average and just five extra-base hits in 221 at-bats. He made 12 errors in 68 games.
He wasn’t hitting much better with Triple-A Rochester this year, but a big league roster spot opened when third baseman Danny Valencia was traded to the Boston Red Sox. Nishioka’s 2012 debut couldn’t have gone much worse. The worst moment of his week might’ve been when he lost a popup in the sun that went for a double on Wednesday, and he inexplicably turned away from the ball after it landed in front of him.
“I wasn’t able to see where the ball dropped. I just tried to kind of get out of the way,” Nishioka said through his translator before Friday’s game.
The 28-year-old is scheduled to make $3 million next season. The Twins have a $4 million option for 2014 with a $250,000 buyout. But at this point, they’re just trying to see if he can play in the majors.
So far the 2010 Nippon Professional Baseball batting champion — he hit .346 that year for the Chiba Lotte Marines — hasn’t shown that he can. And with third baseman Trevor Plouffe expected to come off the disabled list in the next few days, Nishioka could be sent back to Triple-A soon.
“There’s more pressure here, but it’s an environment that you have to do good in, so hopefully I can get my play together,” he said.
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