By Jon Krawczynski, AP Baseball Writer
MINNEAPOLIS -- Joe Mauer is inching closer to returning to the field for the Minnesota Twins after spending almost six weeks on the disabled list with leg ailments.
The All-Star catcher is scheduled to DH in extended spring training on Wednesday in what will be his first game action since he went on the disabled list on April 12.
The plan is for Mauer to get three or four at-bats in Fort Myers, Fla. The team will wait to see how he reacts before setting a plan to get him back in the major leagues.
"They have a plan, a target date for him to come back," manager Ron Gardenhire said Tuesday before the Twins played the Seattle Mariners. "And we're going to work our way up to that and see if that works out. If it has to be adjusted, it has to be adjusted. Right now there's a target date, and that's what they're going to get to."
The three-time AL batting champion hit just .235 with no homers and four RBIs in nine games before going on the disabled list.
Mauer, who started a $184 million contract extension this season, still is not doing much in the way of catching. He has been doing blocking drills, but the Twins want to ease him back into action first at the plate before putting him behind it.
Mauer initially was put on the disabled list with bilateral leg weakness, a condition the team said was brought on by him not being ready to play after having arthroscopic knee surgery in December. He has also had difficulties with his throwing shoulder while rehabbing his legs, and Gardenhire said he played long toss this week to try and strengthen it.
Gardenhire declined to reveal the target date for Mauer's return.
"His legs feel great," Gardenhire said.
The Twins have been ravaged by injuries this season and have the worst record in the majors. Jim Thome returned from a 23-game absence because of an oblique injury on Monday night and infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka has only played in four games because of a broken left leg.
The Twins said Nishioka will do some sliding drills Thursday and, if all goes well, will play in extended spring training on Friday to start his rehab assignment. He started the season at second base, but will play shortstop in extended spring and could play there when he rejoins the Twins, replacing the ineffective Alexi Casilla.
Michael Cuddyer, who has been playing right field and second base, missed the game Tuesday night with a strained right hip, but said he hoped to return Wednesday.
Reliever Jose Mijares (elbow) threw off a mound and will throw a bullpen session on Wednesday before starting a rehab assignment this weekend.
And right-hander Kevin Slowey will see a doctor Wednesday morning to be examined for a sports hernia. Head athletic trainer Rick McWane said the team has ruled out an abdominal strain, and Gardenhire said Slowey would likely be sent down to Triple-A Rochester once the team determines whether he is injured or not.