Mauer back, dismissive of criticism

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 17, 2011 - 6:53 AM

The four-time All-Star believes his work ethic is above questioning and is eager to contribute as he has in the past.

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Joe Mauer addressed the media Thursday at Target Field and stressed there are no mysterious circumstances related to his injury.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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Joe Mauer has heard the rumors, too.

"I don't have Lyme disease," the Twins catcher said Thursday. "... I have no disease or anything like that, so I think that's probably a good thing to clear that up a little bit."

With Mauer set to play for the Twins on Friday, for the first time since April 12, the team was determined to address lingering questions about his long absence.

So after Nick Blackburn pitched eight innings in a 1-0 victory over the White Sox, the Twins held a press conference for Mauer, who arrived looking healthy and tan, though notably thinner than he was on Opening Day.

The four-time All-Star stressed that he doesn't want to be a distraction for a team that has won 11 of its past 13 games.

"This has been a very, very tough couple of months for Joe and this organization," General Manager Bill Smith said. "He was put on the [disabled list] with bilateral leg weakness, which has gotten a lot of comment and questions.

"In its simplest form, bilateral leg weakness means he had weakness in both legs. The majority of that was due to the knee surgery he had in December. ... We've never believed that this was anything more than a leg weakness, mostly caused from that knee surgery."

Mauer, 28, batted .235 with no homers and four RBI in nine games before landing on the DL on April 14. The longer the three-time batting champ remained out, the more the rumor mill churned.

"I've heard a lot of things over the years about many things," Mauer said. "That's why Bill [Smith] thought it was important to clear up that term [bilateral leg weakness]. I think that's when everybody started to panic. When [he landed on the DL], I actually had a stomach virus, and I wasn't available [to address the media], so that's where probably a lot of the confusion came from."

Mauer lost about 15 pounds with the virus, which only made it more challenging to rebuild his strength. In addition, Mauer also was dealing with a sore right shoulder.

Eventually, he regained much of his weight, though he since has shed a few pounds catching seven rehab games for Class A Fort Myers in southern Florida's thick, 90-degree heat.

"I think I'm right around where I need to be [weight-wise]," Mauer said. "I might be a little less with the heat and losing all the water and stuff."

Mauer also seemed to recognize that his image has taken a hit only one year after he delighted legions of his hometown fans by signing an eight-year, $184 million contract extension.

"I think most of [the fans] know how hard I work and how bad I want to be out there," Mauer said. "I think most of that negativity's probably come out of frustration, and let me tell you right now, nobody's been more frustrated than me over the last months.

"I go out there and play hard every day. Obviously the support of the fans means a lot to me, and I hope once I get back on the field, and we start playing, things will get back to the way they used to be."

There have been questions from inside and outside the Twins organization about how hard Mauer pushed himself to come back, especially as the team spiraled 20 games under .500 on June 1.

Some have suggested Mauer won't play hurt.

"I think they're just misinformed," he said. "I think my reputation over the years has been the opposite of that. As long as my teammates know and this organization knows, I'm OK with that."

Mauer played despite a left heel injury last year, along with a sore right shoulder. He reinjured his surgically repaired left knee late in the season but returned in time for the playoffs.

The Yankees eliminated the Twins on Oct. 9, and Mauer didn't have his arthroscopic knee surgery until mid-December. By mid-April, it was clear this hadn't left Mauer with enough time to get back in proper catching shape.

"Surgery is usually a last resort," Smith said. "If you can rehab an injury, that's always preferred to doing surgery. There's always risk in any surgery. ... We took the time after the season to try to rehab it. We got to the first part of December, and Joe said it wasn't making significant progress, so we switched and did the surgery."

Injuries have since healed and perhaps some lessons have been learned, but at least now Mauer can change the story line by what he does on the field.

"I can tell you it was so exciting to walk in the clubhouse today to see my teammates," he said. "Especially after a win."

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