FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Forget needing a backup shortstop. The Twins almost found themselves in need of a starting one on Saturday. The club suffered quite a scare in the fourth inning of Saturday's 13-7 loss to the Pirates when shortstop Jason Bartlett was hit in the back of his right hand on a line drive from Pittsburgh slugger Brad Eldred. Bartlett went to the ground in pain and as he lingered there for a few moments, he was quickly visited by team trainer Rick McWane and manager Ron Gardenhire. Bartlett was able to stay in the game after making a few practice tosses, but when it came time for him to bat the next inning, Gardenhire sent Trevor Plouffe in to pinch-hit.
Upon his return to the clubhouse, Bartlett was diagnosed with bruised fingers (the middle and ring fingers) and the shortstop is now listed as day to day. After the game, Bartlett tried to calm any fears of a more serious injury. "It's just a bruise, guys," Bartlett reassured reporters as he showed off a few black and blue knuckles. "I could have played through it if I had to. It's just a little tight, a little bruised." Bartlett had been scheduled to go on the team's trip to Clearwater against the Phillies on Sunday but was scratched after the injury. Bartlett told Gardenhire he felt he could play, but the manager thought it was best if Bartlett remained behind to see how his hand feels throwing. Bartlett thinks he should be able to play in the club's game against Baltimore on Monday. As for Gardenhire, he clearly had his share of concern on the play. "It was a rocket," Gardenhire said of Eldred's hit. "It about killed my shortstop." The waiting game: Nick Punto wants more than anything to be the Twins starting third baseman on Opening Day, so it's understandable that he's frustrated by being kept off the field due to a sore groin muscle. It's been nearly a week since Punto last played, and the timetable for his return is still uncertain. While Punto's sore muscle was previously reported as a sore hip flexor muscle, the third baseman said Saturday that the pain is really more in his groin. He first felt the pain during a game in Bradenton against the Pirates last Saturday. Punto said the muscle still feels tender and has hindered his ability to run with his usual speed.
The plan now for Punto is to take a couple of days off from any activity and try to let the muscle heal on its own."I've just been trying to push it because I want to be out there and play," Punto said. "I'd like to say I would be able to play if it was the regular season, but I don't know if I could. My speed is why I'm here in the big leagues. I have to be able to run and steal bases, and I can't do that right now." Disabled: The Twins officially announced Saturday that they had placed infielder Alejandro Machado and outfielder Lew Ford on the 15-day disabled list to start the season. Both Machado and Ford did not appear in any spring games as Ford is recovering from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee and Machado is awaiting a decision on whether to undergo surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. The team also made the move to place left-hander Francisco Liriano on the 60-day disabled list. Liriano underwent Tommy John surgery on his elbow in early November and will miss the entire 2007 season. Moving on: Left-handed pitcher Randy Choate has chosen to become a free agent after the Twins reassigned him to Minor League camp on March 21. Choate, who had been in camp as a non-roster invitee after signing a Minor League deal with the club in January, went 0-1 with an 8.22 ERA in 7 2/3 innings for the Twins this spring. Twins tidbits: Gardenhire missed the first inning of Saturday's game as he went down to the Minor League side of camp to watch Dennys Reyes pitch in a game. Reyes threw 23 pitches and did not give up a single hit or a walk in his outing. ... The Twins now have 34 players in camp after the club optioned Glen Perkins to Triple-A Rochester. Quotable: "If you're gonna give 'em up, give 'em up. ... All I know is [first base coach] Jerry White was sitting next to me and went, '[Dang]!'" -- Gardenhire, on the 500-foot home run that Carlos Silva gave up to Pirates slugger Eldred in the fourth inning of Saturday's 13-7 loss Coming up: The Twins will head to Clearwater to take on the Phillies in a 12:05 p.m. CT contest on Sunday. Right-hander Ramon Ortiz will get the start as he faces off against Philadelphia southpaw Cole Hamels.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.