Twins doctoring their approach to injuries

By changing the way they provide updates on injured players, the Twins hope to minimize errors, confusion.


Twins catcher Joe Mauer, left, and first baseman Justin Morneau have suffered through injury plagued seasons, and the team has changed its approach on how it communicates injury information.

Photo: Ann Heisenfelt, ASSOCIATED PRESS

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The Twins didn't formally announce the change, but it's printed clearly in the team's 2012 media guide.

Dr. John Steubs has been named Director of Medical Services, a title he says he doesn't remember having in 24 years of working with the club. The Twins were one of the few teams in the majors last year without someone listed in that capacity.

But after a season when the Twins constantly had to disseminate information about injuries, the club has decided to install a clear chain of command to ensure that injuries are being described correctly.

All the other physicians in the Twins network will report to Steubs. Steubs will report to General Manager Terry Ryan. And Ryan -- not manager Ron Gardenhire or head trainer Rick McWane -- will provide updates to the media. The only time that path will not be followed is on days when Steubs is not with the team and someone fills in for him, or when assistant GM Rob Antony fills in for Ryan.

The Twins insist that the changes have nothing to do with how injuries have been diagnosed. And no one was dismissed from the medical or training staffs after the team led the majors by using the disabled list 27 times last year.

But it's clear the Twins have put Steubs in the hot seat of accountability. And, in a noticeable change from past years, every physician who works with the club is listed in the media guide, even though some have been working behind the scenes with the club for several years.

In reality, Steubs, whose specialty is the lower body (knee surgeries, etc.), has been doing most of the duties of a director, with the help of Dr. Dan Buss (shoulder, arm), for several years.

"After some of the medical problems, both perceived and real last year that we had, I think the medical staff and the trainers have been under a little more scrutiny,'' Steubs said. "So it's a little bit more like a hot seat, being that go-to person, but I have been in that position forever so I don't see it as a huge deal.''

Less confusion

Communication was a running theme last season, starting in spring training, when Gardenhire had to answer questions about Justin Morneau's recovery from a concussion, treatment on Joe Mauer's knee and a rash of other spring health topics.

One example came when Gardenhire said Michael Cuddyer tried a home remedy for a wart on the bottom of his foot and it led to an infection. Cuddyer came out the next day and said it wasn't true.

As the season transpired, Gardenhire had a list of injuries and rehabilitation stints to chew through before each game, to the point where McWane became the leadoff hitter to Gardenhire's pregame media sessions with health updates to make sure nothing was lost in translation.

"We have been looking for a better way to distribute the information,'' said Bill Smith, who was the GM last year and had begun examining the team's medical structure before he was fired in October.

Ryan, continuing what Smith started, wants to handle medical updates.

"I have been of the opinion that a manager has a lot of things on his plate on a daily basis,'' Ryan said. "And for him to have to discuss the medical stuff on top of it, especially if it involved DL and rehab times and location and where they are going and second opinions, I would rather be the guy to say all those things.''

Needed adjustments

The Twins' description of Mauer's leg problems as bilateral leg weakness was a season-long issue. The All-Star catcher tried to explain that everything was related to his coming back from knee surgery and not being in the condition he needed to be in for the start of the regular season. A viral infection in April made matters worse.

But once the Twins announced Mauer had bilateral leg weakness, anyone who can spell "Google" could see the serious issues that symptom could possibly indicate.

"I was saying that all last year,'' Mauer said of the communication breakdowns. "I said a lot of things about what happened and don't want to dwell on it. We needed to make some adjustments. I think we're moving in the right direction, for sure.''

Mauer is in much better shape than a year ago. Morneau hasn't reported any concussion symptoms. Aside from reliever Joel Zumaya being lost for the season and due to undergo Tommy John elbow surgery, the Twins' new system of information distribution hasn't been put to a real test.

But it's a long year.

"I really don't believe that I or any of the medical staff have been criticized for any of the care last year,'' Steubs said. "We just had a really terrible year in terms of injuries and it prompted a desire to have a formal structure in place to make sure nothing fell through the cracks, and that we could manage everything.''

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