As the Twins have lost their way this April, Joe Mauer has found his swing.
Mauer hit two singles on Saturday. He raised his batting average to .321 and his on-base percentage to .453 on a day the Twins fell to 7-17.
He has reached base in all 24 games this season, the longest such current streak in the majors and the third-longest in Twins history to start a season. Saturday, he hit a line drive to left-center and a grounder up the middle for his singles as Minnesota lost to Detroit, 4-1.
They were vintage Mauer hits — easy swings finding holes in the middle of the field. They were the kind of hits that will never satisfy those who think his salary requires him to hit home runs, but they were the kind of hits that once made Mauer a perennial leader in on-base percentage.
Mauer will never return to his form of 2009, when he hit home runs and won an MVP award. He has indicated over the first month of the season that he may be able to return to the days of 2008 or 2012, when he could contend for a batting title.
His current on-base percentage would be the highest of his career. It’s unlikely that he’ll sustain that number, but it may not be too early to recognize that his subpar performances the past two years were related to lingering concussion symptoms.
Justin Morneau was one of the best hitters in the game in 2010 when he took a knee to the head in Toronto. He never fully regained his power, but in 2014 he won a batting title with Colorado.
Mauer suffered a concussion in 2013. It was serious enough that the Twins moved him from catcher to first base after that season.
His production in 2012 and 2013 was representative of the player he had been for much of his career. In 2012, he hit .319, led the league with a .416 on-base percentage and had a .446 slugging percentage. In 2013, despite missing time, he hit .324 with a .404 on-base percentage and a .476 slugging percentage.
The past two seasons, he has posted the two worst OPS totals of his career, when including seasons in which he played at least 100 games. He posted his two highest strikeout totals of his career, a shocking development for a contact hitter of his pedigree.
This April, he has looked like his old self. He has shown a better batting eye and made more solid contact. With one home run, he’s not changing the minds of any fans who think that his salary requires power production, but he looks like he could contend for another batting title at the age of 33.
I asked if he was happy with the month.
“No,’’ he said, referring to the Twins’ record.
How about his swing this month? “Yeah,’’ he said. “I mean, I feel like I’m having some good at-bats. I’ll try to keep doing that for sure.’’
Does he feel like a different hitter this year? “Yeah,’’ he said. “I feel like I’ve been getting better and better physically. That’s what I’ve been working so hard for.’’
Mauer referred to the training he has undergone to improve his vision and reactions.
“I’ve come a long way,’’ he said. “I’m excited about where I’m at, and I’m continuing to get better. It’s definitely been getting better. I think it takes time to get better, and a lot of the things I’ve done have helped.
“I’ve been doing a lot of the vision training and a lot of other things to get back to normal.’’
It’s been a strange month for this highly disappointing team. Last year, Mauer and Ricky Nolasco were among the Twins’ most disappointing players. Now Mauer is their most efficient hitter and Nolasco has been their most reliable starter, and yet they are 10 games under .500 as May begins.
As Yogi Berra said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.’’