ST. PETERSBURG -- As manager Ron Gardenhire hinted at on Wednesday, Joe Mauer finished out the Twins' four-game series against the Rays as the team's designated hitter.
After sitting out two games on Sunday and Monday, Mauer has been the designated hitter in three straight games to help lighten the workload on his sore right shoulder. The All-Star catcher had a cortisone shot to relieve tendinitis in his shoulder, and Gardenhire said he didn't want Mauer back behind the plate until he was able to say with 100 percent certainty that he could do so and not feel any residual soreness.
"He's still not quite there. I think probably this next series, he should be able to catch and start going out there. Just got to give it time," Gardenhire said. "As I told him, I don't want it to be, 'It feels OK,' especially against a team like this that does run. I'd rather just give him the time and have him get well."
Mauer played catch before Thursday afternoon's game, but "it just didn't work out." Gardenhire thought he would be better off resting the shoulder instead of forcing Mauer behind the plate against a basestealing team like the Rays and potentially hurting him as a hitter in the long run.
"I think he felt it every time he throws, and that's what we're trying to get away from," Gardenhire said. "If it affects you that way, eventually it's going to get to your swing. It was starting to bother him a little bit swinging, and that's why we decided to do the cortisone shot."
Fortunately for Gardenhire and the Twins, Mauer has not shown any signs of slowing down at the plate. In 22 games since July 3, he is batting .376 (35-for-93) with 11 doubles, three home runs, 22 RBIs and 18 runs scored. Entering play Thursday He had 16 hits in his last 27 at-bats, good for a .593 batting average.
As soon as Mauer gives Gardenhire the signal he's ready to line up behind the dish, he will be back in his usual spot.
"He still throws the ball really good, but only he can tell you how much it's affecting him," Gardenhire said. "It's coming out of his hand pretty decent, even though he is sore, because he has such a strong arm. But it's no fun to play with a sore arm, I can tell you that."
Rauch forced to sideline with blisters
ST. PETERSBURG -- Reliever Jon Rauch left Tropicana Field prior to the game for the second straight day on Thursday because of the blisters on his hands.
Manager Ron Gardenhire said Rauch had hand, foot and mouth disease, a usually minor illness that causes a few days of fever and mild symptoms like rashes and blisters. Rauch left the team Thursday morning to go visit a doctor, much like he did Wednesday afternoon.
Gardenhire didn't know exactly how long the illness will keep Rauch unavailable, but symptoms usually last from three days to a week.
"If they found out what it is and he received the right medicine, he would be fine," Gardenhire said. "But as he came in today, he said it's no better and they didn't tell him anything yesterday at the doctor. So, he's going to see another doctor today."
Rauch will stay with the Twins as they travel from Tampa Bay to Cleveland, Gardenhire said, but he will have to await further word from the doctors to get a better feel for his recovery time and treatment.
Gardenhire initially explained Rauch's absence as an "allergic reaction" on Wednesday, and said he didn't know exactly how the right-handed reliever came down with the condition, just that it was a reaction to something and that the ailment is keeping Rauch from being able to grip a baseball like he would like to.
"I don't know if it's a nervous disorder," Gardenhire said, "But you get blisters -- little bumps and blisters. He's got them all over his hands right now. He just can't grip the ball."
Rauch's second straight day away from the team further depleted an already overworked bullpen that carried the Twins from the ninth to 13th inning on Wednesday night, leaving right-hander Anthony Slama and left-hander Ron Mahay as the only well-rested options.
"We're going to have to be careful," Gardenhire said.
Span sits out series finale
ST. PETERSBURG -- Denard Span sat out the series finale of the Twins' series against the Rays, though he was available to come off the bench in his final game across the bay from his hometown of Tampa.
Manager Ron Gardenhire said the center fielder simply needed a rest. And taking the day off might be for the best given how much Span has had to deal with this week, balancing a four-game series on the field with a lot of local family and friends off the field.
Jason Repko got the start in center field and batted at the top of the order in Span's place.
"I think Denard has maybe a lot going on with his hometown and everything, he needs a day every once in a while," Gardenhire said. "Repko was swinging really good last night. Just giving him a blow. We've got to do that with him. He's played a lot of baseball this year."
Span leads the team with 436 at-bats and had played in 104 of the team's 108 games before Thursday afternoon -- tied with Michael Cuddyer for the team high.
Gardenhire reassured that it was simply a day off and had nothing to do with some of the "shaky" defense his outfielders played on Wednesday night in Tropicana Field, where Span admittedly had trouble seeing the ball.Gardenhire noted that Span has played great defense all season.
"He's played great. He's done just fine," Gardenhire said. "Last night was a little shaky, but this -- inside a dome, with a different roof, I think one ball was knuckling. The first ball of the game, he said it was knuckling, then no communication on the other one out there in left-center. But he's done fine."
Repko entered the game batting .310 on the year in just 42 at-bats. He went 1-for-4 with an RBI double in Wednesday night's game.
Adam Berry is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.