One Twins player looking forward to the offseason is catcher Joe Mauer -- but not because he wants to get away from recent criticism about his ability to play through injuries.

After speaking with the training staff, Mauer is making arrangements to upgrade his offseason conditioning program. The offseason is the best time for players to add strength, and Mauer wants to enter 2012 spring training in the best shape possible.

"The biggest thing is having a regular offseason," Mauer said. "This year has been pretty tough for me, probably the toughest season I've been through, physically. Last year wasn't easy either. I had that heel injury and things kind if trickled down from that.

"It will be nice. Hopefully I'll have somewhat of a normal offseason. I've got things in place. I've learned a lot over the last couple of years. I think I have the right people and program in place to have a good offseason."

Mauer's last offseason was abbreviated because of knee surgery in December. Even after that, Mauer's workouts were geared toward post-surgery rehabilitation. He never built a solid conditioning base, and some Twins personnel believe that's what led to his weak legs early in the season.

And Mauer said his left knee hasn't been 100 percent this season.

"It's been a grind," Mauer said, "but the last couple weeks my knee has felt pretty good. It's starting to almost kind of heal at this time of the season, which is good. I'm excited about that. There's improvement, and hopefully, once the offseason hits, I'll make some big gains.

"Everybody knows that if you don't have your legs you're not going to be able to drive the ball."

Mauer on Saturday didn't start for the third consecutive game because of a stiff neck suffered Tuesday when he chased after a pop-up while playing first base against the Orioles.

He had to see specialists to help with his neck. He took batting practice before Saturday's game but was deemed unavailable to pinch hit.

He admitted that he wasn't happy with recent criticism about his willingness to play when injured. The drama started Thursday when manager Ron Gardenhire revealed that he had warned Mauer that he would need him if there was an emergency. Mauer looked even worse when Michael Cuddyer told Gardenhire he wanted to play one day after getting hit squarely on the left wrist with a pitch. Afterward, Cuddyer spoke of how important it is to play despite being banged up.

Mauer, after that game, said he would have been unable to play and bristled when asked about perceptions that he's soft.

"The next day, Gardy and Cuddy both apologized," Mauer said. "They kind of got blindsided by it, too. Things are going to happen. I thought it was unfair, but it is what it is."

Gardenhire insisted that Mauer has played many games while banged up this season.

"He's playing hurt more than any of these guys," Gardenhire said. "He's not getting enough credit for going out there and playing."

But Gardenhire is encouraged by Mauer's willingness to attack his offseason conditioning.

"He's going to do some different things this winter and really get after it," Gardenhire said. "He realizes he can't sit around and not do anything as you get older. He's going to stay after it. He's going to do some different things this winter and prepare a little bit more and a little bit longer and come to spring training ready to go. That's a plan. That's a good plan."