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Joe Mauer flashed a $184 million smile Sunday, the first day of workouts for Twins pitchers and catchers this spring in Fort Myers, Fla.

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

TWINS SPRING TRAINING 2012 PITCHERS AND CATCHERS REPORT

Mauer at full strength from Day One this year

  • Article by: LA VELLE E. NEAL III
  • Star Tribune
  • February 20, 2012 - 2:48 PM

FORT MYERS, FLA.

As soon as Joe Mauer began stretching with his teammates Sunday, he was ahead of last season.

By the end of the day, the Twins catcher had completed all the drills, caught in the bullpen and had taken batting practice.

It was not a bold first step, because spring training calls for a series of steps before the real games begin. But the fact that the $184 million man began that progression with his teammates on the first day of camp -- after a miserable 2011 season -- encouraged many at the Lee County Sports Complex.

Including No. 7, who is three weeks ahead of where he was last season.

"I was talking with [hitting coach] Joe Vavra and this is the best I've felt in a long time, and it's almost like you want to get out there and do everything the first day, but it's a process," Mauer said. "It was good working today, though."

He cracked jokes with teammates, had a chance to work with newcomer Jason Marquis and sprayed line drives all over one of the practice fields at the complex.

Developing a relationship with Marquis, the veteran righthander who signed as a free agent during the offseason, was very important. The two spoke for a few minutes after he finished his session.

"It's just good to talk with him after and seeing what he likes to do and know what he likes doing," Mauer said. "I got the most out of that. Just talking with him and seeing what he's doing. It's good to see how his ball moves and how he likes to throw."

Players and coaches sweated through the first workout of camp Sunday under sunny skies and warm temperatures. They all want to prove that the Twins are better than last year's 63-99 club. Proving it will require Mauer to be on the field as much as possible: behind the plate, at first base, as the designated hitter or, in an emergency, in the outfield.

While the Twins hit rock bottom last season, Mauer was in the trainer's room.

"He looks great," righthander Scott Baker said. "He's more excited to be out there than everyone else is for him. It's a good sign to have him out there for the first day."

Said manager Ron Gardenhire: "It's good he's out on the field, and he feels great and is having a good time. As we said, to be with the guys, that's what we want all these guys to do, is get out there and be with the guys and go have some fun again, and that's what he's going to do."

In spring training 2011, Mauer needed time to recover from offseason knee surgery and didn't even catch in the bullpen until mid-March. He rushed to be ready for the regular season but fell short.

He came down with weakness in both legs -- what the Twins called bilateral leg weakness -- in April, knocking him out of the lineup for two months. He returned but failed to meet his lofty standards, and was slowed by aches and pains that had the fan base questioning his durability. He landed on the DL in September because of pneumonia, which cost him the rest of the season.

Mauer vowed to get into the best shape of his career during the offseason, and he arrived in Fort Myers vowing to start camp with his teammates on time and build for the regular season together. As of now, there are no restrictions to his training or preparation.

Mauer looks and sounds like someone who is in a better place mentally and physically.

"Yeah. I would say so," he said. "Even probably to start the year last year, I knew it was going to be a grind, be a struggle right from the get-go. Did I know what was going to happen? No. But I knew it was going to be a tough year.

"I wasn't anywhere near close to where I am physically right now. I've still got a lot of work to do, and that's what spring training is for, trying to get ready for Opening Day."

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