Twins send Nishioka to Triple-A to start season

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FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) -- The Minnesota Twins assigned struggling infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka to Triple-A Rochester on Monday in hopes that the Japanese import can find his game and build some confidence in the minor leagues.

Nishioka was hitting .240 in nine games this spring. After a difficult first season in the United States last year, Nishioka has looked no more comfortable at the plate or in the field with the Twins this spring.

"It's definitely tough to swallow but it's not like it's getting baseball taken away from me," Nishioka told reporters through translator Ryo Shinkawa at the Twins spring training complex. "I came from Japan for a challenge at this in this country. So I'm just going to not give up and look for the opportunity to get back up here."

He was a five-time All-Star, a batting champion and Gold Glove winner in Japan -- and a much-hyped addition when the Twins signed him to a three-year, $9.25 million contract before last season. The Twins parted ways with shortstop J.J. Hardy with the belief that Nishioka would be able to step in seamlessly and give them a table-setter toward the top of the lineup and a reliable glove in the infield.

But after breaking his leg early in the season, Nishioka looked overwhelmed as he tried to keep up with the speed of the game in the American League. He hit .226 with only five doubles in 68 games last season. He also committed 12 errors and had difficulty turning double plays as a second baseman and even making the routine plays at shortstop.

Nishioka reported to his second spring training hoping that feeling more comfortable in the United States would translate to improved play on the field. The Twins signed veteran Jamey Carroll to start at shortstop and planned to move Nishioka into a utility role as a backup all around the diamond.

Yet it took the team fewer than 10 spring games to come to the conclusion that Nishioka was not ready to compete in the big leagues.

Now the 27-year-old finds himself on the outside looking in. The move would seem to shore up infielder Luke Hughes' odds of making the team but also opens the door for prospect Brian Dozier and veteran Sean Burroughs, who signed a minor league deal in the winter to try to revive his once-promising career.

The Twins also optioned right-hander Carlos Gutierrez and outfielder Rene Tosoni to Triple-A. Assigned to minor league camp were right-handers Jason Bulger, Luis Perdomo, Daryl Thompson, Esmerling Vasquez and P.J. Walters; catchers Chris Herrmann and Dan Rohlfing; infielder Aaron Bates and outfielder Wilkin Ramirez.