Hartman: Don't worry about Mauer, because Twins aren't

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 30, 2014 - 8:15 AM

He’s struggling, but manager Ron Gardenhire won’t call it a slump because the first baseman still hits balls hard.

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Minnesota Twins first baseman Joe Mauer.

Photo: Lenny Ignelzi, ASSOCIATED PRESS - AP

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Nobody thought Justin Morneau, at this stage of the season and with all of his concussion problems, would be having a much better year than his former roommate and teammate, Joe Mauer, who is struggling more at this point than at any time in his major league career.

Mauer finished the four-game Rangers series at Target Field 3-for-17 with one double, one run scored and one RBI. He also left six runners on base and struck out twice with two outs and runners in scoring position late in games.

Meanwhile Morneau, whose career many people thought was over and didn’t have many clubs offer him a contract after finishing last season with the Pirates, continues to have a tremendous rebound season with the Rockies. He hit his 10th home run Wednesday in Philadelphia. He has a .312 batting average, a .356 on-base percentage, a .559 slugging percentage and .916 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.

Going into Thursday’s games, Morneau held these ranks in the National League: tied for 18th in home runs and RBI (33), 10th in slugging percentage and 12th in OPS.

Mauer was hitting like his usual self on May 15, with a .301 batting average and a .395 on-base percentage. He had 13 RBI and 23 runs scored to go along with 22 walks to 31 strikeouts. But since then, he has hit only .204 with two RBI and three runs scored in 12 games, and a surprising seven strikeouts to one walk over that time.

Still, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was quick to say he doesn’t believe Mauer is necessarily in a slump.

“I don’t know about that. It’s not so much a slump,” Gardenhire said. “He’s hitting some balls hard. [On Thursday he] hit a bullet down the left field line, the last ball he hit at the shortstop was right on the nose. He just has to keep working.

“The guy is a great player, and that hasn’t changed. He’s fighting a little bit, pressing a little bit, if you can ever believe that, that Joe Mauer is pressing. He wants to do well. He wants to help this team, and he is helping this team. The hits aren’t falling like they normally do, but that will change. He’s a great hitter.”

Mauer missed five games earlier this month because of back spasms, but Gardenhire said Mauer’s health doesn’t seem to be any kind of issue.

“He’s fine,” Gardenhire said. “He’s adjusting to a new position [first base], and like I said, he’s putting the bat head on the ball pretty well. He’s hitting it on the screws, it’s just not falling for him right now as much as it has in the past. We keep telling him, ‘Just keep swinging, Joe.’ He’s a great player and a great hitter.”

Hitting coach Tom Brunansky echoed Gardenhire’s sentiment, also saying that when a team struggles to hit, as the Twins have recently, that can affect the whole lineup.

“Joe is trying to find it, too,” Brunansky said. “We have some guys that are in between some things, and when guys start swinging the bats pretty good, then everybody else kind of follows suit. When teams start to struggle, guys try to do a little bit more than they’re capable of and it accentuates the fact that we’re not hitting well as a team and kind of stands out. We’re in a little bit of something, but we’ll keep battling.”

Brunansky also acknowledged he feels the slumps right along with the players.

“It’s no fun,” he said. “It’s tough because you sit and live and die with every time they’re up there and every pitch they take and every time things don’t work out real good, you feel it and you hurt for them.”

Vikings are underdogs

Las Vegas oddsmakers recently predicted the Vikings will win six games in 2014.

General Manager Rick Spielman is confident Mike Zimmer has lived up to what he expected as he watches him operate as a head coach.

Spielman said that before he hired Zimmer, he talked to 47 of the Vikings players and asked them what they expected in their new coach. The answer was they wanted a coach who would hold them accountable, and to date, Zimmer has done just that.

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