Halfway through his 14th major league season, Twins first baseman Joe Mauer’s .286 batting average is his best since 2013, when he hit .324 and posted a .404 on-base percentage. Mauer missed six games because of his first trip to the disabled list since 2014, but he was activated for Saturday night’s game at Houston, and the Twins hope he will help spark a playoff push.
Mauer had a slow start to the season, hitting just .225 in 21 games in March and April before really turning it on over the next 53 games before last week’s All-Star break. Mauer hit .346 with a .442 OPB in 22 games in May with three homers, 11 RBI and 15 runs scored. He hit .287 in 26 games in June and .286 in five games in July before going on the DL.
Mauer said his play between those first 21 games and the next 53 wasn’t that different in terms of how he felt in his approach to the game.
“I don’t know [the difference], to be honest with you,” Mauer said. “It’s just baseball, really. I’m having some good at-bats and been getting the results. For me this year, I came out and felt really good and felt like I was making good contact and not really having much to show for it.
“All of a sudden May hit, and the results started to show. Hopefully those results can continue.”
Heading into the season, Mauer said that he felt that his body was in a really good place healthwise for him to have a great season.
“I’ve always kind of said over the years if you stay healthy and give yourself a chance, I think things will take care of themselves,” he said. “I feel I’ve done a pretty good job of that so far. Our schedule has been pretty challenging early on here, especially with all the doubleheaders and the weather and stuff like that, but I feel like I’m doing pretty good.”
From catcher to first
There has been a lot of talk that Mauer could earn his fourth Gold Glove this season — and his first at first base — after earning three of the awards at catcher from 2008 to 2010.
Mauer said he realizes now that he can no longer play catcher.
“I do [miss catching],” he said. “I definitely do. I miss calling every pitch, working with that pitcher to get the best out of them every day. But it has also been a fun challenge for me over at first base, as well. But I definitely do miss catching.
“I would love to [go back], but I’ve taken too many foul tips off the head over the years. That was kind of the decision that I had back in 2013, heading into ’14, was either go play first or go home. I’m glad I’m able to play.”
When asked what he misses most about catching, he went back to the relationships he built with starting pitchers over the years.
“I just miss that relationship with that pitcher, being able to figure out how to get the best out of them each and every day,” he said.
Still, first base hasn’t been bad for Mauer. He leads the league in fielding percentage, and is the only qualifying first baseman who hasn’t committed a fielding error.
“Yeah, I feel pretty good,” Mauer said about his work at first. “I still try to go out there and get better each and every day — that hasn’t changed.”
And, as with Justin Morneau before him, Mauer gave a lot of credit to former Twins manager Tom Kelly and his advice in fielding at first.
“He has been huge in my development over there and as a ballplayer in general,” Mauer said. “I have been around him for a long time, and every time I see him I’m always trying to get more information out of him. He’s probably one of the smartest baseball guys I’ve been around, and I’m always trying to pick up new things and new ideas from him every chance I get.”
Legacy and memories
This season, Mauer tied the record for most Opening Days in a Twins jersey, joining the ranks of Harmon Killebrew and Kirby Puckett, and Mauer talked about what that accomplishment feels like.
“I have been very fortunate to keep putting on this uniform every day, and to be mentioned with guys like Harmon Killebrew that’s pretty special for me,” Mauer said. “I’m definitely happy and proud to put on this uniform every day.”
This season, Mauer also had another player join a club in which he is one of few members: Royce Lewis became the third No. 1 overall draft pick in Twins history, joining Mauer and Tim Belcher.
Mauer talked about some of the expectations that come with being the No. 1 overall pick.
“The first couple of days are crazy. I got a chance to meet Royce, and he’s an impressive young man,” Mauer said. “I’m excited for him and excited to get to know him. I’ve heard a lot of great things about him, and that first impression was about right on.
“I’m excited for him and hope I can be a resource for him to help him through some of the challenges he might face. But getting to know him and hearing all of these things about him, I think he’ll be great.”
Yes, it has been a long and fascinating journey for Mauer in a Twins uniform. He has played some of the best baseball Minnesota has ever seen while also dealing with some of the toughest injuries. And you have to hope that Mauer stays healthy and gets a chance at his fourth postseason.
• Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck was asked about the condition of the 22 players who missed spring practice because of injuries. “They’re getting there, not all of them just yet, but the majority of them will start training camp with us,” Fleck said. “We will have pretty much everybody back with us by the first game. The only concern you have is they haven’t had a lot of training. They have been rehabbing, rehabbing, rehabbing, and now they’re finally cleared. But in terms of the full training, that’s hard to be able to get. We have some challenges ahead with them, but we look forward to getting them on the field.”
• Glen Taylor, owner of the Timberwolves (and the Star Tribune), on the Target Center remodeling project: “We plan on being finished in October. That date will be hit. Last year, when you looked at the scoreboard and some of those things, there’s going to be new seats for everybody and then work on the things that are the basics, the lavatories and things like that are going to be a lot nicer. The outside coming in, we’re going to add, I decided to help pay for a new walkway coming in for one of the parking ramps that I think will make it easier to get in and get out, so just be a lot of conveniences. There’s going to be more places to eat inside of the building so people can come earlier and enjoy that.”
• Two disappointments at Rochester are ByungHo Park, who entered Saturday hitting .241 after hitting .353 with seven homers in spring training, and John Ryan Murphy, traded from the Yankees for Aaron Hicks, who was hitting .227.
• The only member of the Wolves Summer League team who has a shot to make the roster in any capacity appears to be Marcus Paige, the former North Carolina point guard who in five games led the team in scoring at 12.4 points per game.
• Former Gophers pitcher Jordan Jess was named a South Atlantic League All-Star last month. The lefthander is 0-2 with a save and a 2.41 ERA for the Pirates’ Class A West Virginia farm team.
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. firstname.lastname@example.org