Nishioka battling to keep his spot on roster

MINNEAPOLIS — Tsuyoshi Nishioka surely hoped he would make a better return to Target Field than this. But Minnesota’s infielder will make his season debut in the Twins’ home park after what was a series to forget in Cleveland.

Nishioka was charged with three errors and had several other miscues in the field during Minnesota’s three-game series against the Indians. He also went 0-for-14 with an RBI and a walk at the plate. Nishioka was not in the Twins’ lineup Friday as Minnesota welcomed the Tampa Bay Rays, but he tried to stay positive when he met with reporters before the game.

“I mean, every day is a new day. Thinking about today, it’s a fresh day,” Nishioka said through his translator, Ryo Shinkawa. During the season it’s always easy to look back at what you did, but I’d rather do that when the season is over. You just want to look ahead while we’re still in season.”

Nishioka played his first season in the United States last year with the Twins, appearing in 68 games for Minnesota after signing a three-year, $9 million contract in the offseason. His 2011 season was interrupted after just one week when he broke his leg on a play at second base.

From there, Nishioka never showed the same skills he demonstrated in Japan, where he was a former batting champion and Gold Glove winner. He hit just .226 with a .278 on-base percentage and drove in 19 runs with only five extra-base hits.

The 2012 season was a chance for a fresh start, but Nishioka instead began the year at Triple-A Rochester. He was with the Red Wings until this week, when he debuted Monday in Cleveland.

Nishioka was asked Friday if he had a higher comfort level in Rochester during the past few months compared to his first few days back in the majors.

“I think it probably goes for everybody to be more relaxed over there,” he said. “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.”

For now, Nishioka’s spot on the roster is safe. But there’s a chance either he or shortstop Brian Dozier could be sent to Triple-A Rochester when third baseman Trevor Plouffe (thumb) returns from the disabled list. Plouffe is scheduled to make a brief two-day rehab stint in Rochester before being activated.

“The last couple days we’ve been able to hit with no pain,” Plouffe said Friday after taking batting practice. “It’s something that won’t fully heal until the offseason, but it’s manageable right now and feels good enough to swing, so that’s enough for me.”

With Plouffe sidelined, the Twins have mainly used veteran utility infielder Jamey Carroll at third base since trading away Danny Valencia and a combination of Alexi Casilla and Nishioka at second base. On Friday, Carroll was again at third, with Dozier at shortstop and Casilla at second.

That left Nishioka on the bench for the first time since rejoining the Twins.

“We use everybody out there. We’re going to play everybody, as always,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “That’s just the way it’s going to be. 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.”

Nishioka hopes he can be part of that equation, but he knows he’ll have to improve both in the field and at the plate. He’s been the object of criticism before in Japan, he said, so he understands the situation he’s in.

“I think you have to take it all in. Not just the praises you hear from people in the media, but you always have to take the tough criticism and try to take that and have it help you improve as a player,” Nishioka said. “Just looking back in Japan, there were tough times and I was criticized. So you have to take it all in and hope it helps you grow as a player.”

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