Twins’ Joe Mauer to play first base

First base duty for Joe Mauer is on deck.

Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said he was planning to play Mauer at first — for the first time in his major league career — when the Twins play the White Sox in Chicago on Thursday. Mauer was out of the lineup Wednesday to rest, while Rene Rivera served as the catcher for left-hander Francisco Liriano against the Tampa Bay Rays and Jim Thome took his turn as the designated hitter.

With Justin Morneau out for at least another month after surgery to repair a neck problem, the Twins have the perfect opportunity to keep Mauer and his bat in the lineup on days when he needs a break from catching. Mauer, the 2009 American League MVP, has been working at first base before games for the past few weeks to get comfortable.

”We won’t really know until we get him over there and see, but he honestly is pretty fluid over there,” Gardenhire said. ”He’s got soft hands. He moves around there pretty well.”

Gardenhire said Drew Butera would catch for Carl Pavano on Thursday. Mauer, who missed two months this season while recovering from post-surgical leg problems, was available to pinch hit Wednesday but took a foul tip off his shoulder Tuesday and was experiencing some typical soreness.

”Catchers do get days off in the big leagues,” Gardenhire said.

The manager also said he’d give struggling right-hander Matt Capps a temporary break from the closer’s role and likely skip Scott Baker’s next start as a precaution for the righty’s strained elbow.

Baker said his arm felt fine, after being limited to five innings the night before. He was scheduled for an MRI exam in the afternoon, but Gardenhire said there was a ”pretty good chance” that right-hander Anthony Swarzak would pitch Sunday to give Baker more time to let the flexor muscle recover. With the All-Star break next week, Baker would have eight days or more of rest, depending on how the Twins set their rotation to start the second half.

”Just trying to be smart with it,” Baker said.

Capps has blown six save chances this season and has allowed nine hits and five runs over his last three appearances while recording only five outs. Gardenhire wouldn’t reveal who would pitch the ninth inning in the meantime, though Joe Nathan and Glen Perkins are the obvious options.

”I know he’s frustrated, so we’ll see what we can do,” Gardenhire said. ”Cappy’s going to be fine, I know that, throwing the ball. Our big concern, as we talked about last night, is getting him back to feeling good about himself.”