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Continued: Twins: What can Mauer do for an encore?

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Last update: March 30, 2007 - 2:11 PM

Tony Oliva

Total batting titles: three

First: 1964, at age 25

Second: 1965, at age 26

Last: 1971, at age 32.

Will a batting title stunt Mauer's growth as a power hitter?

When Oliva hit .323 to win the AL batting title in 1964 -- along with Rookie of the Year honors -- he hammered 32 home runs.

The next year, he won another batting title, hitting .321, but a knuckle injury limited him to 16 home runs. He settled in as a steady hitter who averaged 21.5 home runs over his next six seasons, at a time long before baseball's home run explosion.

Oliva was a much different hitter than Mauer, more of a free swinger famous for throwing his bat at pitches and still getting hits.

"[Mauer] doesn't have to do that," Oliva said. "He's able to take those tough pitches [for] balls. I swing at a lot of balls -- and hit it. I think the lower the better, and when it was low, I smoked those balls.

"So we're different. They tried to make adjustments. They try to make good pitches to you. But when you're a good hitter, it doesn't matter."

Mauer's 6-5 frame and his rare ability to make consistently solid contact leave people drooling over his power potential. But after hitting nine home runs in 2005, his total jumped to just 13 last season.

"Remember, he's only 23 years old," Oliva said. "He's going to get a little stronger. He's going to get a little smarter.

"It's very hard to do better than he did last year. But I think he'll be able to hit more home runs, with time."

Mauer said he realizes there are certain counts (2-0, 3-1, etc.) when he should look for a certain pitch in a certain zone and try to crush it.

In Wednesday's spring opener against Boston, Mauer launched a 2-1 fastball from Julian Tavarez over the left field wall for a three-run homer. It was an opposite-field blast that showed just how powerful Mauer can be. He hit balls just like it last season, but perhaps this one was an omen.

"I found out when I try to do something more, I just get into bad habits," Mauer said. "I'm not really trying to do anything different. The more times you see guys, the better idea you have, and you might know when to take a chance.

"When I say take a chance, I mean look for a certain pitch."

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