NEW YORK - I asked Joe Mauer if he was aware that Minnesotans go crazy when he's not in the lineup.
"I go nuts, too,'' he said.
It was Wednesday night. The Twins' game at Yankee Stadium had just been postponed.
Mauer's name did not appear in the Wednesday lineup, as catcher or designated hitter, even though he has a career .419 average against scheduled Yankees starter Freddy Garcia.
This is where the simple act of a manager resting a catcher with a history of leg ailments becomes fascinating and mysterious.
The manager, Ron Gardenhire, is charged with preserving Mauer's health and effectiveness over the course of an eight-year, $184 million contract.
Gardenhire said that Twins starter Carl Pavano preferred the "low target'' offered by backup catcher Drew Butera. Gardenhire said that because Mauer needs regular days off, and Pavano and Butera work well together, that he could regularly catch Pavano.
What's strange is that Pavano denied ever requesting Butera as his regular catcher. And that Mauer and Butera were similarly effective when catching Pavano last year. Mauer caught Pavano in 17 games, in which Pavano compiled an ERA of 3.79. Butera caught Pavano in 15 games, in which Pavano compiled an ERA of 3.65.
"I don't know anything about that,'' Pavano said about having a personal catcher. "Those are decisions that Gardy and Andy [Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson] make.''
Does he prefer Butera?
"No, no, not at all,'' Pavano said. "I think last year it just so happened that a lot of times it fell, and I had great success with Drew, and I've had success with Joe, too.''
Gardenhire said that Mauer needs regular rest, and that a day spent as a DH didn't provide adequate rest.
"I'm like everybody else,'' Gardenhire said. "I'd love to have Mauer playing all the time. I'm no different than any fan out there, sitting in your rocking chair or your arm chair, saying, 'I want Mauer in the lineup all the time.' Believe me, I like that, too.
"But catchers need days [off], and this is a great opportunity to give him one, at least, a week, with Pavano pitching. Then to say, 'DH him,' well, that's not really a day off, because he hits more than most people and he runs around the bases. It's about his legs, and giving him a day off is to keep him off the field.''
How does Gardenhire decide when Mauer will rest?
"I always check with him every day,'' Gardenhire said. "If he gives me one of these, 'Let me get up and move around and see how I do,' then I pretty much know he's sore.''
I asked Mauer if there is a plan for resting him, and how he feels about being out of the lineup.
"There's no specific plan,'' he said.
Has he identified an ideal number of games he should play?
"I've always said that I don't like it when I'm not in the lineup,'' he said. "If I'm in the lineup, I want to be behind the plate.
"Obviously, I'd like to catch more than I would like to DH.''
Would he have wanted to DH on Wednesday, given that Butera was the scheduled catcher and Mauer has crushed Garcia?
"I just know I want to play,'' he said. "It doesn't matter who's on the mound, whether I have good numbers or bad numbers.''
To be clear, how does he feel about DHing?
"I'd rather DH than sit,'' he said. "Definitely.''
So what happens Friday, when, on Opening Day at Target Field, Pavano pitches, and a sellout crowd expects to see St. Paul's own on the field? Who catches?
"One of those two guys who are on the roster,'' Gardenhire said. "I haven't gotten that far yet.''
But it's the home opener ...
"It doesn't matter, we've got Pavano pitching,'' Gardenhire said. Then he pointed at me and said: "Write it up. Write who you think should catch. I'll let you make the decisions.''
Thank you, Ron. I'd put the $184 million former MVP and batting champ from St. Paul in the Opening Day lineup at Target Field. I don't care whether he catches or serves as DH.
That wasn't so tough, was it?
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2:40 p.m. on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is Souhanstrib. • email@example.com