Sid Hartman: Joe Mauer aims for 180-degree turn

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 19, 2012 - 11:12 AM
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Twins catcher Joe Mauer took some time to play with a young friend at Hammond Stadium on Saturday.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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Joe Mauer looks back to all his physical problems from the 2011 season, and the outstanding catcher said he believes he would do things a lot differently regarding his knee surgery if the same circumstances developed again -- which would lead to a more successful season.

"I had offseason knee surgery late, and that kind of put me behind the eight-ball for 2011," said Mauer, who reported to spring training Saturday with a sound knee.

"I didn't really have a whole lot of time, and I think everybody, including myself, was trying to make the best decisions at the time. We thought we could give it a go, and we quickly realized we couldn't.

"Looking back on it, there's a lot of things that I think we could have done differently, or wish we would have done differently, but it happened and [I'm] just trying to move forward.

"I mean, if we knew I was going to have surgery, we would have had it right after the year. But you know, you have to try and figure out if you need surgery, and ... we were making the best decision at the time and we thought we could rehab it and avoid surgery."

Mauer talked about how frustrating it was to go on the disabled list so early last year and how he hopes this season will be very different.

"I'm able to work out [now] and I can focus on trying to get stronger instead of just rehabbing. I'm excited and looking forward to the year," Mauer said. "I still have some work to do, but I feel a lot better at this point this year than I did last year. I'm looking forward to Opening Day and spring training."

He described his situation this year compared to last as the difference between night and day.

"I was in rough shape at this time last year," he said. "[I've] been working out and trying to get ready for the season, about six days a week. Trying to work smart. Just trying to get my body ready.

"It's a lot different than last year, because last year I was more just rehabbing the knee. This year, I can concentrate on getting ready for the season, preparing the whole body."

Mauer was asked his feelings about the loss of three important teammates: Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Joe Nathan.

"That's kind of what happens in baseball. You hate to see it happen, but it's a part of the game and you have to move on," he said. "Those guys have moved on, and you wish them the best, but we have to figure out ways to replace those guys and get better."

Mauer agrees that, for the Twins to win, they need his close friend Justin Morneau to come back after having a tough year from a health standpoint.

"He's definitely in better spirits this time of the year than last year," Mauer said. "I hope I can see 33 on the field and it'll be good to have him."

Lockout helped Pekovic

Nikola Pekovic, who is averaging 12.4 points per game and 7.0 rebounds after scoring 30 points and adding 12 rebounds in the Timberwolves' 111-98 victory over Houston on Friday night, said the NBA lockout was really a blessing for him, and it's one of the reasons he has become so dominant at center lately.

"I was playing in Greece, and that's the biggest thing that helped me this year," said the 6-11 native of Montenegro. "I played during the lockout, I played with a club in Europe -- and so I played and I already had like 20 games, so for me it was easier."

Pekovic was able to play a total of 22 games in Europe before coming to the Wolves. He played seven games for Partizan in the Euroleague, averaging 15.4 points and 4.6 rebounds in 26.7 minutes per game. In the European Championships he played five games with Montenegro, averaging 13 points and 6.4 rebounds. And in the Adriatic League, again with Partizan, he averaged 13.7 points and 5.5 rebounds in 10 games.

"It helped me a lot to keep myself in shape," Pekovic said.

Pekovic added that the best thing that happened to him was that he didn't join the Timberwolves immediately when they drafted him in 2008.

 
"When they drafted me, like three years ago, I knew it was going to happen [playing with the Wolves], but I just didn't feel like I could come immediately. That's why I stayed two years in Europe to try to make myself ready for the NBA."

Even though he has been scoring and rebounding well, Pekovic said playing good defense is one of his goals.

"I'm just trying to be productive and be productive on the court and try to help my teammates on defense as much as I can, and on offense. Just trying to do some things," he said.

Pekovic also said he appreciates the opportunity to play center, which he might not have received had starting center Darko Milicic not been injured.

One good thing for the Wolves is that Pekovic is in the second year of a three-year contract paying him $4.12 million this year. Next season, he will be paid $4.64 million, after which he will become a restricted free agent with the Wolves having first refusal on his services.

Jottings

• Three players who were originally in Gophers basketball uniforms before transferring are having the type of seasons that might have helped the Maroon and Gold. Justin Cobbs, now at Cal, and Devoe Joseph, now at Oregon, faced off for the second time this season on Thursday night in Cal's 86-83 victory. Joseph scored 33 points and Cobbs scored 28 points. Cobbs is averaging 13.3 points, 4.7 assists and 2.5 rebounds per game. Joseph is leading Oregon in scoring at 16.6 points per game with 3.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists.

• And Royce White led Iowa State to an 80-69 victory over Oklahoma on Saturday. Iowa State (19-8) is tied for third in the Big 12 and White remains the team leader in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals.

• Rest assured that when Rick Adelman -- who coached the Houston Rockets last year -- became the Timberwolves coach, he had no idea that he would win three out four games from his former team, including two on the road.

• The Gophers track team has the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked national leaders in the 800-meter run, with Harun Abda at 1 minute, 46.97 seconds, and David Pachuta at 1:46.98.

• Former Gopher Jack Hannahan will be returning to camp with the Cleveland Indians after avoiding arbitration and signing a one-year, $1.1 million contract this offseason. Another former Gopher, John Gaub, is trying to make the Chicago Cubs Opening Day roster, and ESPN reported that he will battle with Kerry Wood to be the team's primary set-up man.

• Former Twins reliever Pat Neshek has signed a minor league contract with the Orioles after posting a 4.01 ERA in 25 innings with the Padres last season. Neshek, who had Tommy John surgery in 2008, is still trying to regain his form from 2006-2007, when he was one of the Twins' best relievers.

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