DETROIT -- The Twins shuffled their lineup against the Tigers on Saturday, as manager Ron Gardenhire opted to give third baseman Trevor Plouffe and left fielder Jason Kubel a day of rest from the starting lineup.
Plouffe had started in 33 of the club's 34 games and was replaced at third base by Eduardo Escobar, while Kubel had started in 28 games and was replaced by Eduardo Nunez in left field.
"We kind of mixed our lineup around, because we had some guys who were playing every day, so we wanted to give them a little bit of a break here," Gardenhire said. "So we've got some fresh horses in there, as they say. We've got Escobar at third base to give Plouffe a break, and Kubel has been fighting it recently, so we have Nunez in left field, where he's played here before. So we have some of our faster guys in there."
After hitting.304/.409/.478 in 24 games in March/April, Plouffe was hitting just .119/.159/.190 in 10 games in May. But Gardenhire said he's not worried about Plouffe, as he's been robbed of a few hits on line drives, including twice in Friday's 2-1 win over the Tigers.
Gardenhire was more concerned about Kubel, who hit .288/.360/.425 in April but was hitting .222/.300/.222 in May entering Saturday's action. Kubel was originally signed by the Twins to serve as the designated hitter this year, but he has yet to start a game at DH because of all the injuries to outfielders such as Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia.
"When we brought him in here, he was going to be the DH, and we'd spot-play him in left and right and keep his legs strong, but he's been playing every stinking day, and you can see his swing isn't there right now," Gardenhire said. "So we wanted to give him a break. He's a good player when you use him right. He can really help you, like he did for us early."
Racking up RBIs, Suzuki impressing with his bat
DETROIT -- The Twins knew what they were getting in Kurt Suzuki with his defense and game-calling skills behind the plate, but he's been a pleasant surprise offensively this season.
Suzuki, who joined the Twins on a one-year deal worth $2.75 million, picked up two more RBIs in Friday's 2-1 win over the Tigers and entered Saturday's game leading all Major League catchers with 21 RBIs. His .302 batting average also ranked second among backstops.
Suzuki has delivered in key situations, as he's hitting .393 (11-for-28) with runners in scoring position, and .412 (7-for-17) with runners in scoring position and two outs. But Suzuki said he doesn't change his approach in those situations, and he deferred credit on his RBIs to his teammates.
"I try to have good at-bats every time," Suzuki said. "It's just a matter of teammates getting on base before me. That's what it comes down to. You just try to have the same at-bats every time, but it's just a matter of the guys having good at-bats and getting on base."
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has been impressed with Suzuki so far this season, and added that Suzuki comes into his office asking to catch just about every game. He was back behind the plate on Saturday afternoon, despite catching on Friday night, and has caught 26 of the club's first 34 games this year. But Gardenhire cautioned he'll have to ease Suzuki's load as the season goes along.
"Suzuki wants to catch every inning of every game," Gardenhire said. "Night game, day game. He's the first person who comes walking in. It's all good and fine this time of year, but what it's going to be like at the All-Star break and after that? So we have to be careful."
Mauer returns to lineup as designated hitter
DETROIT -- After missing five games with lower back spasms, Joe Mauer returned to the lineup on Saturday in the Twins' 9-3 loss to the Tigers, starting at designated hitter and batting third. He went 1-for-3 with a walk.
Mauer was able to hit in the cages without any issues before the game, and he told Twins manager Ron Gardenhire that he was also able to run the bases. So Gardenhire called it an easy decision to put Mauer in the lineup for the first time since Sunday.
"He came in and got to the park early and did some stuff and said he wanted to play," Gardenhire said. "The trainers said the same thing. He feels good and can run all the bases and all those things."
Gardenhire added he was relieved Mauer was able to avoid the 15-day disabled list, as it would've kept him out of action until May 20 against the Padres.
"With backs, it's something you don't want to deal with too much," Gardenhire said. "When you start feeling better, you always want to give it a few extra days. I've had it and we've all had it, and it's just not very fun. So I'm just happy to see him in here, wanting to play."
Mauer didn't know if he'd play until Saturday morning, but he was available to pinch-hit late in Friday's 2-1 win. After Saturday's game, he said he was still feeling some stiffness in his back.
"It was good to get back out there, definitely," Mauer said. "I still feel it, and I'm pretty stiff right now, but it feels pretty good to be back out there. I know it was just a few days, but it felt like forever. It was a lot of time in the training room to try to get back out on the field."
Mauer is scheduled to receive more treatment on his back at the team hotel on Saturday night, and he said he expects to be back in the lineup on Sunday, but isn't sure if he'll be at first base or designated hitter.
"We'll see what happens when I get to the park tomorrow," Mauer said. "But I'll be in the lineup in some capacity, which is good."