The Twins won't rush him back until he is ready to catch every day, bypassing the chance to activate him as a designated hitter.
BOSTON - The Twins are trying to get Joe Mauer ready to catch the final "four-plus" months of the season, General Manager Bill Smith said Monday, hinting that the four-time All-Star would return sometime before June 1.
But the team has no interest in rushing Mauer back before he's ready, even for a temporary stint at designated hitter to fill one of the gaping holes in the Twins lineup.
Mauer, who is recovering from bilateral leg weakness and a viral infection, has been swinging a bat at Target Field since Wednesday. He last played April 12, and the Twins have given no official timetable for his return.
Nobody has even suggested bringing Mauer back until he is ready to catch, Smith said.
"We're rehabbing him to come back and be our main catcher for the final four-plus months of the season," Smith said in a phone interview. "The only way we're going to achieve that goal is to have him go through the rehab process that he's going through now."
Mauer, 28, batted .235 with no homers and four RBI in nine games before going on the DL. Still, he's a three-time batting champion and the 2009 American League MVP, and some would argue that having Mauer hitting at 50 percent would be better than some of the alternatives.
With Delmon Young and Jim Thome also on the DL, the Twins could put Jason Kubel in left field, instead of at DH, which would lessen the playing time for rookies Ben Revere and Rene Tosoni.
The Twins haven't had Young in the lineup since April 18; Thome hasn't played since April 30.
Young, Thome and Tsuyoshi Nishioka have all left for Fort Myers, Fla., to continue their rehabilitation. Thome traveled there Monday because the Twin Cities weather forecast looks grim in coming days, and the Twins figure he will get more work done in Florida.
One reason Mauer hasn't left for Florida yet is because he uses the underwater training facilities at Target Field to help rebuild his strength. Twins assistant trainer Dave Pruemer said Mauer also has been taking lots of swings and playing catch.
"We want to get him back in the lineup, behind the plate," Smith said. "That's where he can have the biggest impact on our ballclub. So doing anything else would just be counterproductive to that goal."
The last time Mauer gave an interview with the media, on April 27, he also made it clear he wants to return from the DL as a catcher. He is in the first year of an eight-year, $184 million contract.
"I just think I can help the team a lot more behind the plate," he said. "That's what I signed here to do is catch. I think we're a better ballclub when I'm behind the plate."
The Twins have been using their trainers to brief the media on all injury updates, so manager Ron Gardenhire doesn't have to address all the questions, many of which are centered on Mauer.
"I just honestly have put that on the back burner," Gardenhire said. "It's not something I can control. I've got enough going on right here."
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