Healthy Mauer put in the work to return to All-Star form

The Twins catcher has been able to stay on the field this season, and has returned to his place among the game's leading hitters.

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Joe Mauer has managed to stay in the Twins lineup throughout most of this season, whether it be as catcher, first baseman or designated hitter.

Photo: Jim Mone, Associated Press

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ARLINGTON, TEXAS - When healthy, Joe Mauer hits.

The first half of the season has been a reminder of what he can do when he's not battling knee or shoulder injuries, pneumonia or other ailments.

And not just hit, hit with the best of them.

Mauer is headed to his fifth All-Star Game on Tuesday in Kansas City as a reserve on the American League team. He enters the break fifth in the AL with a .326 batting average and third in all of baseball with a .417 on-base percentage.

He could use the All-Star appointment as vindication after being criticized for not being on the field last year. He does drop hints that the criticism he faced last season bothered him more than he has let on. But he is not pointing to his revival this season and demanding more respect.

"I never had to prove it to myself," Mauer said. "Obviously, nothing has changed for me as far as how I go about my job. What's the most frustrating is that there are people out there with their opinions and they put them out there that I'm doing this or not doing that. I've worked harder or more in the last year to try to get back on the field than I ever have in my life.

"That's what was the most frustrating about it, how much time and effort and work and people don't realize that."

After an injury-filled 2011 season, Mauer pledged to do everything he could to stay on the field in 2012 and be there for his Twins teammates.

Since he didn't have a injury or surgery to deal with, like in past years, he applied himself to offseason conditioning like never before -- even summoning media to Target Field during the offseason to discuss his workouts.

He said he arrived at spring training this year in his best shape since his MVP season of 2009. For the most part, he has achieved his goal, as he has played in 77 of 85 games.

He wasn't pleased with his swing in spring training. Unable to use his left leg the way he wanted to because of the knee problem in 2011, Mauer had to compensate to get through the season. He needed time this year to incorporate his legs back into his swing.

He was batting .290 on June 1. Since then, he has hit .392.

"I'm swinging the bat pretty good, but there's always room for improvement," he said. "There still are some things I'm working on in the cage with [hitting coach] Joe [Vavra]. Still trying to get that feeling and hold on as long as you can and trying to get better."

Mauer remains vague about what disappointed him the most about last season's health watch, but it's clear that he believes there should have been better communication about his situation. He was asked to clarify things during an interview Saturday, but he preferred to talk about how hard he has worked to get back into the lineup.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has done his part, using first base and the designated hitter spots to keep Mauer fresher and available for more games.

"As you get older in this game, it's a nonstop learning process," Gardenhire said. "Your body doesn't react the same way it does when you are younger. You get away with things you can't get away with as you get a little older. You're also talking about a catcher who is bending over and squatting. He's realizing you can't just, 'Seasons over, go home, have a few beers, relax during the winter and go down to spring and get in shape.' The game has gotten so much bigger than that.

"And I'm not saying that is what Joe did, but I'm saying that players have realized that to keep up they have to stay in shape all year long. The time you take off from baseball is minimal from where it used to be."

A year ago, Mauer was in the cross hairs of controversy. Making the All-Star team is a great way to forget last season.

"That's definitely an honor," Mauer said. "The hard work I've put it in, it's a nice little reward to go there and to enjoy it. Obviously, you're never promised to go to the All-Star Game and you don't know the last time you're going to go. As long as they keep having me I'll keep going back. I'm definitely excited about it and it's a nice little thing midway through. I guess you reflect on all the hard work I put in."

  • ALL-STAR BREAK IN KANSAS CITY 7 P.M. TODAY • HOME RUN DERBY • TV: ESPN

    Tuesday: All-Star Game • 7 p.m. • Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Mo. • TV: Ch. 9

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