Rincon closing in on return for Twins

— Minnesota Twins right-handed reliever Juan Rincon took a big step in the right direction Friday by throwing live batting practice for the first time since having surgery Oct. 3 to remove a bone spur in his right elbow.

The 27-year-old Venezuelan threw 35 pitches on one of the side fields before Minnesota’s Grapefruit League game against the New York Yankees and believes he will be ready to resume his setup role out of the bullpen when the season starts in Toronto in 10 days.

“At the end it kind of caught up with me, but it felt good to be back on the mound,” Rincon said. “I didn’t hope to feel anything, I just thought of it like a regular bullpen. I didn’t think about coming out of surgery, and you try to set your mind not to think about that.

“The good thing about it was that I didn’t have the same pain that I had before the surgery. It was another kind of pain and it was not as bad as the one that I had last year. I think that was a plus, but I was expecting to recover a little sooner than what it took.”

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire also was encouraged with the report he was given on Rincon’s outing.

“Rincon threw very well,” he said. “He snapped some sliders off but his location is not there. Obviously, his fastball was jumping all over the place, but the ball was coming out of his hand, he was free and easy and he was feeling no pain. So that’s a good thing.”

Rincon credits the shoulder exercises he did at the beginning of spring training for strengthening his arm and allowing him to progress.

FOR MORNEAU’S EYES ONLY: First baseman Justin Morneau has drawn some second looks from teammates with a couple of different sets of contact lenses he is trying out. He has been experimenting with these tinted and colored lenses created by Nike in order to help him at the plate during day games outdoors when it’s very bright, with one pair giving his eyes a reddish or orange tint and the other pair making his eyes look black.

“He looks like a Thundercat. I thought he’d turn into the devil or something. It’s pretty wild,” said center fielder Torii Hunter, who tested the lenses last year and liked how they took away the glare and made it so he didn’t have to squint at the plate.

Morneau said he won’t wear the orange lenses in the Metrodome or any other domed stadium, but he might wear the ones he had on Friday — the black ones — when he plays in the Metrodome.

From a comfort level, the 25-year-old Canadian doesn’t have any issues because he wears regular contact lenses, and he said he just doesn’t like to wear sunglasses. So he’s okay with some of the jokes he hears in the clubhouse.

“Guys think they’re kind of creepy, kind of scary,” he said. “(Nick) Punto won’t look at me. They call me Dracula or something.”

FRANCISCO’S FIGHT: Twins general manager Terry Ryan said recent talk of left-handed pitcher Francisco Liriano possibly being looked at as a reliever out of the bullpen because of the time he lost pitching for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic is premature.

“Ultimately, he’s in the mix for the fifth spot in the starting rotation,” Ryan said. “I’m not worried about anything other than whether or not he’s going to perform tomorrow (during his first spring start against the Cincinnati Reds in Sarasota) really. I’m trying to see whether or he’ll be in the rotation first.”

Liriano will face former Boston Red Sox righty Bronson Arroyo this afternoon. Arroyo was traded to Cincinnati on Monday in exchange for outfielder Wily Mo Pena.

TWINS TIDBITS: Right-hander Carlos Silva, who started Friday opposite the Yankees’ Randy Johnson, explained how he wound up on so many sports highlights while sitting in the dugout during the Twins-Red Sox game with masking tape covering his mouth. “That was (Brad) Radke. He said I was talking too much,” Silva said. “I am the cheerleader of the team you know, I have to talk. I was screaming, ‘Luis’ real loud and he put the tape all over. I like to talk during the game. My team likes it so why would I stop it. They play relaxed.” He said Castro is the one who drew the teeth. ... Hunter has stepped up as the Twins’ music critic during batting practice. As he stood next to the cage on the field at Hammond Stadium and a slow song was playing, Hunter shouted up to the press box where former Twin Dan Gladden, a radio announcer for WCCO in Minneapolis, was sitting and told him to change the tune. “The music, they need to stop playing the slow stuff. We’re taking BP we’re supposed to be pumped up and have a little rhythm, you can’t get rhythm with that music.”

© 2006 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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