Gardenhire impressed by Nishioka's debut

Gardenhire impressed by Nishioka's debut

Gardenhire impressed by Nishioka's debut
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Tsuyoshi Nishioka put on a solid defensive display at second base in his first Spring Training game with the Twins on Sunday night, but it was his speed that perhaps made the biggest impression on manager Ron Gardenhire.

In Nishioka's first at-bat of the game against Red Sox starter Josh Beckett, Nishioka hit a sharp groundout to shortstop Jose Iglesias. Yet the Twins new infielder made it a close play at first base after he blazed down the line.

"He hit a rocket," Gardenhire said. "It was a great swing, but I watched him run down the line. He can fly. I mean we know he can run, but he was flying. That's kind of what we like."

Nishioka showed off some glove work in the second inning, making two tough plays to both his left and his right in the inning. In all, Nishioka had five chances and handled all of them with relative ease.

"Nishi made, I think, three great plays out there, not easy plays," Gardenhire said. "The field was wet, the ball was skipping pretty good, and he made them look pretty doggone easy."

Twins starter Carl Pavano added that he was impressed with what he saw defensively from Nishioka and how he worked with his new double-play partner, Alexi Casilla, in their first official game together. And despite the language barrier that exists between them, Nishioka said that he feels that he and Casilla are adapting well to working together.

"I think it has transitioned very well," Nishioka said through interpreter Ryo Shinkawa. "And even though we don't understand the language, we have eye contact and communicate."

Asked if he had any nerves for his first game with the Twins, Nishioka said he did not but added, "Once the starting lineup was called and my name was called on the screen, it was a very special moment for me."

Nishioka tallied his first hit in his third at-bat which came in the fifth inning when he blooped an RBI single into right field off his fellow countryman, Red Sox left-hander Hideki Okajima.

"I asked him after two at bats if that's enough, and he said he'd like one more because he felt like he was brand new playing baseball, which I like," Gardenhire said. "I like that a lot. He was having some fun."

Gardenhire then joked, "We tried to get the ball for him, but we'll save that for the season."

The Twins skipper said that Nishioka will not play in Monday's game at Boston, but he added that he will continue to talk to his newest infielder to make sure that he's getting enough playing time. Although Nishioka is technically a rookie since this is his first season in the Major Leagues, Gardenhire said that he'll treat the infielder like he does most starting players -- which means playing him in more games at home in Spring Training and thus having to take fewer road trips.

"I know he's a rookie, but he's not a rookie; he's been playing baseball a long time," Gardenhire said. "So I'm going to treat him as a veteran. I'm going to call him a rookie, but I'm going to treat him as a veteran."