After missing 57 games, four-time All-Star Joe Mauer just wants to fit in as he returns to the improving Minnesota Twins.
The face of the franchise will be reinstated from the 60-day disabled list and start behind the plate Friday night when Minnesota opens a three-game series with the San Diego Padres at Target Field.
Mauer, in the first season of a $184 million extension, has been sidelined since April 12 with bilateral leg weakness exacerbated by a flulike virus.
"Before I actually went on the DL, I was like, 'Am I helping or hurting the team right now?' And that was something that I really struggled with," said Mauer, who's batting .235 with four RBIs. "It got to the point where I just couldn't even get out on the field, and you have to kind of step back and look at what you're doing."
Besides Mauer, the Twins will also activate left-handed reliever Glen Perkins, who's been out since May 22 with a strained oblique. Earlier in the week, infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka was activated from the DL after breaking his leg six games into his rookie season.
"This is the first piece of getting our ballclub back together," general manager Bill Smith said Thursday.
However, the Twins are still missing many key pieces. Justin Morneau (wrist), Jason Kubel (foot), Jim Thome (quadriceps), Denard Span (concussion) and Joe Nathan (flexor strain) remain on the disabled list.
Though Minnesota (28-39) has the AL's worst record, its pitchers have been carrying the club for much of this month. The Twins have won 11 of 13 with the staff compiling a 1.62 ERA.
Behind eight sharp innings from Nick Blackburn and a homer from Michael Cuddyer, Minnesota defeated the Chicago White Sox 1-0 on Thursday. The Twins have surrendered three runs while winning four in a row, one shy of their season high.
"I don't want to be a distraction to my teammates, to this team. We just kind of got on a roll here," said Mauer, who will catch Brian Duensing (3-6, 4.98 ERA) in the opener after the left-hander allowed a career high-tying seven runs in two innings of a 9-3 loss to Texas last Friday.
Duensing, who's facing San Diego for the first time, is 1-6 with a 6.13 ERA in his last eight starts.
The Padres answer with Clayton Richard (2-8, 4.06), who'd like to see some run support from one of the lightest-hitting teams in the majors at .231.
Richard has posted a 2.93 ERA in his last five starts, but he's 0-4 and the Padres have backed him with only three runs in that span. He surrendered two runs - both in the first - and five hits through seven innings of a 2-1 loss to Washington on Saturday.
The left-hander, who started his career with the White Sox, lost his only start against the Twins in 2008.
San Diego (30-40) opened a nine-game trip by dropping two of three in Colorado. Mat Latos and Chad Qualls combined to allow five runs in the sixth inning of the Padres' 6-3 defeat on Wednesday.
Anthony Rizzo went 1 for 4, but that's his only hit in the last 14 at-bats. The highly touted rookie is hitting .190.
Minnesota swept a three-game set from the Padres at Petco Park in 2008, and leads the all-time series 6-3. San Diego, though, has won six of its last eight interleague road contests.