Hunter wastes no time getting in swing of things

Torii Hunter is back, back, gone.

The Minnesota Twins center fielder took his first pitch of the spring — and his first pitch in a game situation in seven months — deep over the left-field wall Thursday night at Hammond Stadium, kicking off his return with a loud boom.

Hunter had been sidelined since July 30 when he broke his left ankle in Boston. He said before Thursday night’s game against the Red Sox that he’s still trying to get up to speed.

“I want to try and get out there and get as many at-bats as I can so I can really get my timing down,” Hunter said. “I feel like I’m kind of behind. I don’t want to be behind in April; I want to be caught up with everybody. I’m swinging and hitting as much as I can, even off the field, just to get my hands ready and get back in shape.”

The five-time Gold Glove winner is careful not to put too much stock in spring training performances.

“The players, we know what really counts, and that’s April 4,” Hunter said of the season opener at Toronto. “A lot of the media guys say, ‘This guy is hitting .400 this spring, he’s ready to go.’ No, the pitchers are behind. Yeah, he’s hitting .400 but that doesn’t mean he’s going to have a great season.

“You can’t expect me or any other of these guys to go 2-for-2 with two home runs. This is spring training, we’re out there actually working on things. The results might not be great, but that’s what we’re trying to do.”

VERSATILE TIFFEE: With Justin Morneau off representing Canada in the World Baseball Classic, Terry Tiffee figures to see plenty of action at first base.

Tiffee played 50 games last year for the Twins while splitting time between Minnesota and Triple-A Rochester. He struggled at the plate, hitting .207 with one home run and 15 RBIs.

The Twins brought in Tony Batista, who hit 32 home runs for Montreal in 2004 and spent last season in Japan, to play third base and add more pop to the lineup, possibly leaving Tiffee in the cold.

Still, the Arkansas native sees the added playing time as a chance to make an impression.

“I didn’t have a good year last year, so I can’t expect them to give me a chance,” Tiffee said. “All I can do is go out and try and prove myself, whether I’m in Triple-A again or wherever, and show them that I can play.”

Tiffee drove in a run Thursday with an infield single in the second inning.

LOOKING FOR LEFTIES: The Twins hoped to get a better look Thursday at two free agent left-handers brought in during the offseason to bolster the bullpen. Both Darrell May and Gabe White were scheduled to pitch against Boston.

The Twins already had a look at newcomer Dennys Reyes on Wednesday when he struck out the side in one inning of work against Concordia (Minn.) University. That might be the only look Minnesota gets at the 28-year-old for a while. He will pitch for Mexico in the WBC.

TWIN BILLS: Thursday’s game against the Red Sox was the first of five between the two clubs this spring. The Red Sox visit Hammond Stadium again Sunday. The game is sold out. ... The Twins claimed last spring’s Mayor’s Cup by besting the Red Sox 4-2 in their six meetings. ... Brad Radke will start today’s home game against Cincinnati. Michael Gosling takes the hill for the Reds. The game starts at 1:05 p.m. ... Thursday’s game was one of two night tilts at Hammond Stadium. The other, March 22 vs. Cincinnati, is also sold out. ... SportsRadio AM 770 will air three more Twins games in addition to Thursday night’s game: Saturday, March 11, Detroit, 1 p.m.; Wednesday, March 22, Cincinnati, 7 p.m.; Friday, March 24, New York Yankees, 1 p.m.

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