The injury-plagued Minnesota Twins got a dose of encouraging news Thursday when Joe Mauer, who sat out for 10 days because of tissue inflammation in his left knee, started against the Toronto Blue Jays as the designated hitter. He is expected to be the starting catcher Friday. Shortstop J.J. Hardy, who had missed the previous four games because of a swollen left knee, also started.
Meanwhile, first baseman Justin Morneau took batting and fielding practice as he continues to recover from postconcussion syndrome. He said he hopes to be ready to play if the Twins advance to the American League Championship Series. Morneau has been out since Blue Jays infielder John McDonald inadvertently kneed him in the side of the head as Morneau slid into second base July 7.
Designated hitter Jim Thome probably will return Friday when Mauer moves back behind the plate. Thome missed his eighth start in a row because of a knot in his lower back.
Rangers' Hamilton set to return
Josh Hamilton is scheduled to return to the Texas Rangers' lineup Friday against the Angels. Manager Ron Washington said Hamilton will start and play six innings in either left or center field.
The Rangers plan to have Hamilton serve as the designated hitter Saturday and return to the field Sunday for the last game of the regular season. Hamilton has not played since Sept. 4 because of two small fractures in his right ribcage.
Baseball's off-season calendar will be changed as a result of deal between Major League Baseball and the players' union. The union agreed to drop a grievance that accused teams of colluding during the last two off-seasons to keep down salaries for free agents. In exchange, players no longer will need to file paperwork to become free agents. When they have achieved the right, free agency will be automatic. Players' current teams will have exclusive rights to negotiate with pending free agents for five days after the end of the World Series, down from 15 days. Teams also face earlier deadlines for tendering contracts and offering arbitration. … Game 3 of the World Series is scheduled to begin at 3:57 p.m. PDT Saturday, Oct. 30, the earliest start for a World Series game since Game 6 in 1987. The rest of this year's World Series games are scheduled to begin at 4:57 p.m. PDT, with the exception of Game 4 on Oct. 31, which is set for 5:20 p.m. PDT.