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Offerman hopes to return to majors

11-year vet spent 2002 season in independent league

By Dave Campbell

Associated Press

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jose Offerman, his career revitalized with a strong showing in Dominican winter ball, has a good chance to make Minnesota's opening-day roster as a switch-hitting veteran off the bench.

Offerman hasn't played in the majors since finishing the 2002 season with Seattle after Boston dumped him midway through the year. A veteran of 11-plus seasons, Offerman played 2003 with Bridgeport (Conn.) of the independent Atlantic League. Never very gifted with the glove, Offerman had several productive offensive seasons with Los Angeles, Kansas City and the Red Sox -- and the Twins hope he can repeat one of those with them.

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"My role right now is just be here and do whatever I am able to do," said Offerman, 35. "Whatever they want me to do, that's what I have to be ready for."

That likely won't include much work in the field, but Offerman -- originally a shortstop with the Dodgers -- is capable of playing first base, second base and the outfield. He caught the Twins' eye over the winter with his performance in the Dominican Republic, where Nelson Norman, one of their scouts, gave them a great review.

"I knew my condition and I knew what I was able to do," Offerman said. "I went out there and just proved that."

Not being in the majors last season was difficult for Offerman, who warmed up to playing in the Atlantic League and wound up having a positive experience.

"You never know in this game what's going to happen," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "The one thing we do know is that he's proven himself at this level and he can hit. ... He didn't just quit baseball and walk away. He stayed after it."

INJURY IMPROVEMENTS: First baseman Doug Mientkiewicz returned to workouts Sunday morning after hyperextending his left knee the day before during a fielding drill.

Mientkiewicz, who was hurt when he landed awkwardly on the edge of the infield after jumping to get out of the way of a ball, moved around at home Saturday night without any difficulty. He did everything in practice on Sunday.

"I'm just happy I woke up and it wasn't swollen," Mientkiewicz said.

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Right-hander Grant Balfour, who has tenderness in the part of his forearm near his elbow, pitched to live batters Sunday for the first time this spring.

Left-hander Johan Santana, whose winter throwing program was hindered by his recovery from surgery to remove a bone chip in his elbow, is being brought along a little slower than the others. He hasn't pitched to live batters yet.

SNAPSHOT FROM CAMP: Not-so-fleet-of-foot designated hitter Matthew LeCroy took off for first from home plate in a baserunning drill with Torii Hunter in line behind him.

Hunter started sprinting, yelling "I'm going to catch you." LeCroy turned around between first and second, encouraging Hunter to speed up as fans looked on in amusement behind the fence around the field.

OVERHEARD: Gardenhire, when asked if Mientkiewicz -- who never met a rant he didn't like -- went through a full cycle of drills: "He did everything ... complained, moaned."

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