CINCINNATI -- Joe Mauer continues to make strides toward his recovery, and his return to the lineup may be just around the corner.
Mauer, who has been out with a bruised right quad, was not in the lineup for Friday's series opener against the Reds, but made his first plate appearance since June 17, drawing a five-pitch walk in the sixth inning.
Minnesota didn't take any extra risks, calling on Liam Hendriks to pinch-run for Mauer.
Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony said Mauer caught in the bullpen twice Thursday and continues to improve each day.
"He needed to test [his quad] and see how it is," Antony said. "He came walking in and seemed fine to me. He has improved."
Mauer, who is out with a bruised right quad, is not in the lineup for Friday's series opener against the Reds, but is available to pinch-hit.
While there is no set time frame on Mauer's return, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said his All-Star catcher will return to the lineup whenever he feels ready.
"It's not up to me," Gardenhire said. "All I do is wait for someone to tell me he's ready to go and ready to play. If [Mauer] comes in tomorrow after doing all these bullpens and says 'I'm ready to go, I want to play,' then I type him in. He has to tell me when he's ready and the trainers have to say we're good."
The four-time All-Star and 2009 American League MVP has not made an appearance since June 17, batting .314 with 69 hits and 33 RBIs.
Duensing to become Twins' 10th starter this year
CINCINNATI -- Having already run through nine different starting pitchers this season, the Twins will turn to lefty Brian Duensing on Saturday night as a potential answer to their pitching problems.
Duensing is 1-2 with a 3.12 ERA in 30 appearances this season and has started 50 games since 2009, including 28 last year.
As a team, the Twins hold the second-worst ERA in the Majors at 5.05, trailing only the Rockies at 5.33.
"I'm not looking to take people out of the rotation," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "If you start, and you do well, we'll find something. Duensing's been a starter and has all the confidence in the world, it's just going to be about how this is going to help him getting back to throwing."
While the Twins continue to feel out the situation, Gardenhire said the staff hopes to limit Duensing's pitch count to no more than 60.
"How he'll do, you never know because he hasn't been in this situation," Gardenhire said. "I feel pretty good about running him out there. I don't have too many worries about Duensing pitching."
While some see it as a spot start for Duensing, assistant general manager Rob Antony said if all goes well, the decision could turn into a permanent role.
"He's making the start tomorrow and we'll see how that goes," Antony said. "If things go well, we'll keep it going, keep him in the rotation."
Duensing has never faced Cincinnati in his career.
Capps available Friday, but unlikely to pitch
CINCINNATI -- Listed as day-to-day and having not pitched in a full week, right-handed reliever Matt Capps was "fine and available" for use Friday in Cincinnati.
Even though he is available, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said he intends to hold Capps until he makes a full recovery.
"We've been told that the longer we were able not to throw him, the better off we'll be," Gardenhire said. "The more days we give him, the better he's going to be. He's better day by day, but still not 100 percent."
Entering Friday's contest, Capps was 1-4 with a 3.55 ERA in 26 appearances this season.
Capps has been dealing with right shoulder inflammation and has not pitched since June 15.
Mark Clements is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.