Joe Mauer was signing autographs Saturday afternoon when he was asked how he feels. “Great,” he said reflexively. “Just great.”
Hmm. There is considerable evidence to the contrary. OK, Joe, all informal pleasantries aside, how do you really feel?
“Well, I feel terrible,” the Twins first baseman said bluntly. “I’ve been feeling terrible for a while. But the season’s not over.”
No, it’s not, and Mauer hopes to acknowledge that fact Sunday, in the Twins’ final home game of 2016. He has been hobbled for nearly six weeks by lingering pain in his right leg, but Mauer wants to be in the lineup for the Twins’ Target Field finale.
“It’s important to me to finish this off. It hasn’t been a very good year, but this is our job,” Mauer said. “You go out there and play the game, and when you get late in the season, you try to grind through it.”
Mauer’s past few months have been ruined by the strained quads he suffered in Atlanta on Aug. 16, while scoring from first base on a double. He has been in and out of the lineup since then, has missed 16 games, and is enduring a terrible skid at the plate. He is hitless in his past 12 at-bats — his most recent hit, in fact, was his walk-off single against Cleveland on Sept. 10 — and 2-for-29 (.069) in his past eight games.
So it’s no wonder he’s looking forward to finishing the season next weekend. “I’m going to get some rest, for sure. My body needs the rest. Baseball doesn’t give you much time to recover,” Mauer said. He doesn’t believe he needs surgery, but “I’m going to try to clean up the nicks that you acquire over the year and get right for next year.”
But first, he would like to play as many games as he can of the remaining seven. “You just keep grinding, good or bad day, but you keep working at it, because that’s how you make things better,” he said. “That’s how you be a professional. Keep working hard, regardless of the standings or what anybody else thinks. We’ve got some younger guys, and it’s important that they learn that.”
Santana won’t sit
Mauer isn’t the only veteran who wants to keep playing despite the Twins’ sorry record. Ervin Santana was given the option of shutting down for the season, but manager Paul Molitor said the 34-year-old righthander wants to make his final start, Wednesday at Kansas City.
“He wanted to pitch. My opinion is that it would be a little bit crazy to try to push him too far,” so his pitch count may be reduced, Molitor said. “But when adrenalin gets flowing, and you’ve got a chance to do something … we’ll see how the game goes.”
Santana’s season has been sabotaged by the team around him, at least according to the numbers. The righthander, who has two years remaining on his four-year contract that pays him $13.5 million per year, has been credited with only seven victories this year, tying his career low. He is the victim of some terrible luck, however; in his past seven starts, Santana has posted a 3.16 ERA — but the Twins have lost six of the seven games. Santana’s 17 quality starts are more than twice as many as any other current Twins starter this season.
“I told him, he’s given us a chance to win many, many games,” Molitor said. “I’m sure it’s been a little bit frustrating. He’s as good a pro as we have around here. I don’t see him complaining or whining. … He deserved better.”