Joe Mauer expected to debut at first base on Thursday

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Twins manager Ron Gardenhire told reporters on Wednesday, including Phil Mackey of ESPN 1500, that catcher Joe Mauer will make his major league debut at first base Thursday evening in the club’s series-opener against the White Sox.

Drew Butera will take his regular turn catching Carl Pavano and Jim Thome will serve as the DH.

Mauer played 14 games at first base in the minor leagues during the early part of his professional career but hasn’t appeared at the position since 2003. He’s going to begin seeing starts there from time to time to protect his legs and knees.

The Twins want to keep Mauer’s bat in the lineup on a daily basis and are finally willing to try new things in order to make that happen. The 28-year-old has played in only 26 games this season and has a weak .226/.284/.269 slash line. With more playing time and fresher legs, perhaps he’ll be able to get it going.

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.