Twins manager Ron Gardenhire awoke Monday to suggestions from the Twin Cities' two biggest newspapers that it's time to move Joe Mauer from catcher to third base.
Gardenhire has his own opinion.
He strongly disagrees.
"Do I sound fired up about it?" Gardenhire said. "That's because my guys are fired up about it. The whole team's all fired up, and Joe's a little fired up, and he's pretty disappointed, and that's sad. He's done nothing wrong. All he's done is his work and he's getting hammered. It's too bad it has to be written."
One year after becoming the first American League catcher to win a batting title, Mauer has been limited to 95 games because of various leg injuries. He's been out since Aug. 25 because of a strained left hamstring and is batting .294 with five home runs and 53 RBI.
But Gardenhire said the only time the Twins discuss changing Mauer's position is when it comes up in the media.
"If it's deemed that he can't play catcher, then obviously we'll find another position for him," Gardenhire said. "But you're talking about an All-Star catcher. This guy's pretty good. He can stop a running game. He can do things that you're not going to find anywhere else."
Mauer acknowledged that the columns had struck a nerve.
"A little bit," he said. "Not just that [position change suggestion]. ... I don't usually read the paper, but when people start writing things about questioning reputations and stuff like that, and they don't really know what's going on in clubhouses, that's what kind of fired me up a little bit."
The Pioneer Press column listed a Mauer move to third base as one of five moves the Twins should make for 2008. The Star Tribune column said that "Mauer's reputation in the clubhouse had taken a hit," while other teammates played through injuries and he "eased and iced his way back into the lineup."Guys in here know that I play hard and play hurt and play through all sorts of things," Mauer said. "You know, obviously if I need to switch positions, hopefully that's later down the road, but I want to be a catcher as long as I can."
In spring training, Mauer missed time because of a stress reaction in his left shin. In May, he strained his left quadriceps muscle and missed 29 games. Even before his latest hamstring pull, Mauer acknowledged that the May injury had limited his workout regimen and led to late-season fatigue.
But Mauer said none of that has lessened his commitment to catching full-time.
"I'm still 24 years old," he said. "That's pretty young in this game, and you know, it's just one of those things. When you get hurt early in the season, you've got to deal with it the rest of the year because in baseball you play every day."
Gardenhire took issue with the Star Tribune's examples of other major leaguers who had thrived as hitters after moving from the catching position: Mike Sweeney, Phil Nevin, Craig Biggio, Todd Zeile and Dale Murphy.
"Was Sweeney a good catcher, an All-Star catcher? No," Gardenhire said. "Were any of those guys All-Star catchers who controlled the running game and stopped the running game?
"None of them were Joe Mauer. This guy's a stud catcher."
Last month, Gardenhire and Mauer did talk about practicing other positions, such as first base, for the purpose of creating another way into the lineup on his noncatching days other than designated hitter.
Gardenhire said Mauer could suffer leg injuries at other positions because he'd still be running the bases. That's how he hurt himself in May and again in August.
"Are we going to show him other positions? Absolutely," Gardenhire said. "But to sit here and all of a sudden have all this hype about, well, 'He needs to move to fill one gaping hole at third base, and let's just make another gaping hole behind the plate.'
"Tell me which one is more important. ... I can show you a lot of teams that don't have a guy back there who can handle a ballgame ... and see where they're at."