BALTIMORE -- Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has in interesting theory about Joe Mauer's awful first half, when the three-time batting champion hit just .271 and struck out more than he ever had before. The problem, Gardenhire believes, was holding the All-Star Game at Target Field.
"He was pressing. There's no doubt, before the All-Star game, I think he was pressing," Gardenhire said. "It's the first time my career as manager here, [that I've] seen Joe Mauer really want something bad -- that was the All-Star Game, and I think it played a part in it. I don't think he would ever admit to it, but in my opinion, it definitely did."
Gardenhire is right about one thing: his first baseman doesn't buy the theory. Back spasms and minor injuries were to blame, Mauer said. "I definitely wanted to make the [All-Star] team, but I don't know if that had anything to do with my first half. It's news to me," Mauer siad. "I had back spasms early, and when I started swinging well, something like that always popped up. I don't think it was any added pressure."
I'll have more on Gardenhire's reasoning in tomorrow's Star Tribune, but there's little doubt that Mauer his closer to his old self again. Even amid a 1-for-15 slump, Mauer has cut way back on his strikeouts since returning from an oblique injury that would have kept him out of the All-Star Game anyway, and his on-base percentage this month is .400.
The Twins arrived at their hotel at 4:15 a.m., and they have eased into the day's activities, skipping early batting practice. But if they're tired, maybe the electricity of the city will pick them up today, because Baltimore is buzzing. A new casino, the Horseshoe, opened this week just on the other side of M&T Bank Stadium right next door, so there are crowds of people here for that. And the football stadium will be full tomorrow, too, when Ohio State opens its football season in the afternoon against Navy. Plenty of Buckeyes at the car-rental facility when I arrived this morning.
The Twins sometimes send the next day's starting pitcher ahead of the team when they expect difficult travel days, but Trevor May was on the team charter last night, I'm told. I imagine he spent the day resting for tonight's start, the fourth of his career.
On the field, the Twins will try to hit a little better than they did in Kansas City, where their 13-13 scoring standoff with the Royals is a little deceiving, since 11 runs came in last night's game. Kurt Suzuki gets the night off, so Eric Fryer can catch May, his former Rochester teammate. One other benefit, too, manager Ron Gardenhire said: "It gives Suzuki a chance to chill out in the dugout with me and drive me crazy." Kennys Vargas is playing first base for the fifth time since joining the team, and first time since last Sunday, but the lineups are otherwise the usual.
After facing ex-Twins Liam Hendriks and Josh Willingham in Kansas City, the Twins see a couple more of their former players here, in outfielder Delmon Young and shortstop J.J. Hardy. There's one other, lesser-known connection: Orioles first baseman Steve Pearce, who spent spring training with the Twins in 2012, but was cut before the season started.
Here are the lineups for tonight's game against the first-place Orioles: