FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — After facing Joe Mauer in a live batting practice session in Florida on Wednesday morning, Joe Nathan deemed himself close to returning to the Minnesota Twins.
It's still not quite clear when Nathan's All-Star catcher will join him.
Nathan pitched to Mauer and Twins prospect Miguel Sano at the team's spring training headquarters. Nathan has been on the disabled list since May 23 with soreness in his right forearm, a condition related to his recovery from Tommy John surgery last year.
Both players said they felt good and hoped to be back with the Twins in short order, but Nathan seemed to have a more specific timetable in mind.
Nathan said he will head to the Twin Cities on Thursday and be evaluated by team doctors before being cleared to rejoin the team. He struggled at the start of the year with a 7.63 ERA in 17 appearances before going on the disabled list, a slow start not surprising given that he missed all of last season with the elbow injury.
"I took some time off to break up some scar tissue," Nathan said. "Ever since that, it has been night and day with how the ball has been coming out of my hand. The ball felt like it was coming out of my hand a lot better than what I've been used to. I think I'm starting to finish my pitches a lot better. I'm seeing more life on the ball now."
Mauer has played in only nine games this season because of various leg and shoulder injuries, hitting just .235 with four RBIs in the first year of a $184 million contract extension. He had arthroscopic knee surgery in December and said last month that his body wasn't ready when the season started.
He went on the disabled list on April 12 with what the team called bilateral leg weakness and also has dealt with soreness in his throwing shoulder as he's worked his way into catching shape.
The Twins said Mauer would be re-evaluated after the batting practice session.
"It was a lot longer than I had hoped," Mauer said of his rehabilitation process. "But I got my work in, and I worked with a lot of great people down here. It was nice, but obviously I want to be up there in Minnesota and be up there playing. I feel like I'm ready to get out of here."
Nathan agreed, saying Mauer looked sharp Wednesday morning.
"I threw him some pretty good breaking balls," Nathan said. "It's really just impressive to see the pitches he can take when he's down 1-2 in the count. I threw him a couple of sliders. He put a good swing on them. It's nice to see him find his swing again and start to feel good again."
Mauer said Nathan looked more like the All-Star closer he is used to catching.
"He looked really good," Mauer said. "The ball was coming out of his hand. I got a lot out of it, just seeing the break on his pitches, how fast they were. You don't normally see that down here. Joe is one of the best pitchers in the game, and he looked good today."