FORT MYERS, Fla. – Joe Nathan appears to have avoided the problem that struck John Lackey the past two years — a spring-training injury.

Nathan, the Minnesota Twins’ closer, should be “fine” after leaving Saturday’s 9-3 loss to the Boston Red Sox with soreness and tightness in his surgically repaired right elbow, Manager Ron Gardenhire said.

Nathan, whose 47 saves were second-most in the majors last season, was examined by team doctors after leaving as a precaution in the third inning when he struck out the leadoff hitter but walked the next two. It was his first appearance since having surgery in October to remove bone spurs and chips.

“Supposedly there wasn’t a lot of concern but we’ll see,” Gardenhire said. “It’s coming off a surgery and it’s the same spot and that’s normal. I think he’ll be fine.”

He said Nathan felt fine since reporting to spring training.

Lackey made his first appearance for Boston since signing a five-year, $82.5 million contract as a free agent from the Los Angeles Angels. He retired the side in order in the first two innings, throwing 20 pitches.

It was an encouraging start after injuries late in spring training the past two years landed him on the disabled list.

“It’s something that I’ve taken into account working out, trying to strengthen my arm a lot more and being a little more careful in my throwing program,” he said.

Lackey was the Angels’ top starter but said he’s content to be No. 3 behind Josh Beckett and Jon Lester.

“I’m not worried about that,” Lackey said. “If the roles were reversed and I would have stayed in Anaheim and one of those guys would have came over there, I would expect to still be going first. I think those guys have earned the right, won a lot of games. I’m OK with that.”

He’s also fit in with his new teammates.

“It’s been fun competing against them (with the Angels) and it’s going to be even more fun competing with them,” Lackey said.

The Red Sox trailed 3-2 after six innings, then took advantage of poorly located pitches and defensive problems by Minnesota to score four runs in the seventh and three in the eighth.

Boston took a 2-0 lead in the fourth against Glen Perkins. Gil Velazquez singled in the first run and Mike Cameron hit a sacrifice fly. Perkins finished last season in the minors after going on the disabled list Aug. 11 with tendinitis in his left shoulder but said he felt good.

“Where I’ve come from from last year and how I felt, to today, that’s something I’m going to look at more so than the couple of walks and the couple of runs” he allowed, Perkins said.

The Twins cut the lead to 2-1 on an RBI double by Wilson Ramos in the sixth, then went ahead 3-2 in the seventh on Danny Valencia’s RBI double and a run-scoring wild pitch by Joe Nelson, who ended up with the win.

Boston regained the lead when Tug Hulett hit a three-run homer in a four-run seventh against loser Jeff Manship.


RAYS 6, RED SOX 4: Justin Ruggiano homered after Fernando Perez led off the bottom of the ninth with a triple for Tampa Bay at Port Charlotte, Fla.

Andy Sonnanstine and Wade Davis each walked three as the Red Sox took a 3-1 lead in the first four innings.

Ben Zobrist and Kelly Shoppach hit their first homers of the spring off Adam Mills in the fourth to put the Rays up, 4-3.

Shoppach’s homer came after a single by B.J. Upton.

Boston starter Felix Doubront struck out three in two shutout innings.

The Red Sox brought their starting infield on a day most of the team stayed in Fort Myers.


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