Frustrated about Joe? He's angry he's out, too

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 16, 2011 - 5:28 PM

Joe Mauer bristled at those questioning his work ethic and willingness to play with pain.

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Joe Mauer (left), Michael Cuddyer and batting coach Joe Vavra watched from the dugout railing late in Sunday's loss to Toronto.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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Joe Mauer usually wears stoicism like a catcher's mask. Late Sunday afternoon, as his teammates left for Seattle following another embarrassing loss, Mauer offered a rare window into his thoughts, admitting that this been the most frustrating month of his career.

While standing in front of his locker, and then in two subsequent phone interviews, the Twins' All-Star catcher gave an exclusive interview in which he defended his efforts to return to the field and his offseason schedule, and revealed that his injury never should have been described as "bilateral leg weakness."

Being a three-time batting champ raised in St. Paul has not shielded him from criticism as he has tried to recover from leg and shoulder injuries that have sidelined him since mid-April.

"This has been the toughest thing I've gone through," he said. "I don't read the papers, but I hear a lot of things through my friends and family. They know how hard I work and how much I want to be out there, but you can't control what people think or write. You just have to do what you think is best, and that's what I've been doing.

"I've worked hard my whole career, and my whole life, at this. This is frustrating because I can't get out there and do what I love and what I do best. I think you know from following me for so long that this is very frustrating for me, the way this has gone and the way that we're playing right now. I want to be part of the solution for this team, as soon as possible."

Mauer plans to work out at Target Field on Monday. Twins officials hope he could leave soon for a rehabilitation assignment in Florida. What has frustrated fans and even many in the Twins organization is that Mauer's ailments have been mired in mystery, leading to speculation that he is unwilling to play with pain, a damning accusation regarding someone who says he's determined to remain at the most demanding position in baseball.

Mauer's mysterious season has followed offseason knee surgery and has coincided with the first year of an eight-year, $184 million contract.

"We had a plan," he said. "I had an accelerated spring training, and at that point, when the season started, I felt I was in a position where once I started the season I would gain the strength I needed, and it just didn't work out that way.

"Now I'm back to trying to get to where I need to get to. I'm playing through a lot of things. You can play through things when you're hurt, but I'm still dealing with injuries. You can't play through those. I'm still dealing with what I had in the offseason."

Mauer underwent knee surgery in December. In mid-April, he went on the disabled list with what the Twins described as "bilateral leg weakness," relating to a viral infection.

"There was a lot of confusion with that," Mauer said. "Right when I went on the DL, I heard it was all about the virus that I had, and that was why I was going on the DL. They were two separate things. We had decided that I was going to be placed on the DL, and then about 40 minutes later I had my face buried in the bathroom toilet because of the viral infection. Those two things weren't connected."

The Twins' use of the phrase "bilateral leg weakness" raised red flags because that condition is sometimes associated with crippling diseases. "I don't know where that came from," Mauer said. "Obviously, I went in there and told them about my leg or, I guess, my legs. I was rehabbing an injury, and my other leg was compensating for it, and my shoulder was taking the brunt of it, and my other leg was working twice as hard. I think that's why that phrase got thrown out there, because both legs were beat up.

"I thought I was in good enough shape to start the season, and I was hoping that I would gain strength during the season, and it went the other way on me."

Mauer recently told reporters he would return when he was "100 percent" and that he intended to catch, not return as a designated hitter or switch positions.

"I was just trying to say with that, that you want to be healthy," he said. "I think I'd be doing this team a disservice if I came back just to DH. I think that would prolong the process. I know I'm not going to be 100 percent when I come back. But you have to get to a certain point where you can catch back-to-back days, not just one night.

"We play six, seven days a week. If I'm catching one day and then taking a few off, that's not doing anybody any good. I need to get back to where I can catch regularly. That's what I do, and that's what this team needs me to do."

Is he determined to remain a catcher indefinitely? "Yeah," he said. "Obviously, I'm worried about getting back on the field healthy and staying on the field this year, but that's what I signed to do. I'm a catcher. I think I can help this team the most as a catcher."

Mauer realizes the sight of his face in so many commercials could prompt questions about his schedule this winter, when he was rehabilitating his knee.

"I guess I could see that people thought I'd done a lot of national spots this winter," Mauer said. "But you have to understand that this is a week of time, spread out over the whole offseason.

"I think that's a ridiculous comment, to question the way I worked this winter. One of the stipulations with my deals with these companies is that I have a place to work out and enough time to work out. It was a minimal amount of time that I was gone.

"It's pretty unfair to point to that as a reason I'm not playing right now."

Known for his even demeanor, Mauer at times sounded angry that his resolve would come into question at this point in his storybook career.

"It's a frustrating time for me," he said. "I want to be out there, helping my team.

"I grew up wanting to play big-league baseball. I grew up wanting to play for the Minnesota Twins. Nobody knows the urgency of getting back on the field more than I do."

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m to noon and weekdays at 2:40 p.m. on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is Souhanstrib. jsouhan@startribune.com

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