Hartman: Struggling Mauer aims to stay positive

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 18, 2012 - 11:43 AM

A strong start in April has given way to a poor May for the Twins star, a pattern followed by teammates.

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Twins catcher Joe Mauer

Photo: Paul Sancya, Associated Press

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The Twins swept a two-game series in Detroit after their 4-3 victory on Thursday, so now if they can get Joe Mauer hitting like he did in the past, the club can live up to the prediction of former outfielder and current color man on the radio broadcast Dan Gladden, that manager Ron Gardenhire will have the team five games below .500 by the All-Star break.

Even after the sweep, the Twins still have the worst record in baseball at 12-26.

If somebody had told you that Mauer, a former American League batting champion, would be hitting .182 in the month of May, I'm sure you wouldn't have believed it.

Mauer has had a very rough month after getting off to a hot start in April. Mauer hit .325 through 21 games and had a .419 on-base percentage with one home run, four doubles, 13 RBI and 11 runs scored. But in May, Mauer is hitting just .182 with four doubles and three RBI. His on-base percentage remains impressive at .349, as he has drawn 12 walks in 16 games.

The hard struggle has been the fact that in those 16 games, Mauer has gone hitless nine times. He also hit into another double play Thursday, which he has done with team- and league-leading frequency.

"It's been frustrating. It's been frustrating, for sure," Mauer said before the team left for Detroit, where he went 2-for-9. "You just do the best you can. There's a lot of negativity around but you have to stay positive and you have to stay together.

"Just everywhere, obviously everybody has gotten used to the team winning around here and nobody is more frustrated than we are.

"I think we're all having a hard time. We're not used to it around here and we definitely don't like it. Staying positive, you know togetherness, you have any answers for it? You want to show me? It's a tough game and you have to do the best you can and try to stay positive. Yeah, we have a lot of time to do it."

As for the time he has spent at first base rather than being a full-time catcher, Mauer said: "I'm a lot more comfortable behind the plate, but getting over to first is definitely better for the body. But I'm definitely a lot more comfortable behind the plate."

Mauer talked about how this season has been a different year for him.

"Obviously, I am trying to stay on the field as much as possible, but I'm just trying to do the best I can," he said. "Yeah, I'm out there every day, so that's definitely a good thing."

Mauer believes the Twins are a much better team than their record indicates.

"Hopefully soon," he said when asked whether he looks for the team to start playing better baseball. "We're young, we're pretty young. ... It's been a tough year. We're not used to this around here."

Others slumping, too

Mauer is not the only Twin in a slump this month. Josh Willingham and Denard Span have watched as their stellar starts in April have come back to Earth this month, meaning that three of the Twins' hottest hitters early in the season have struggled mightily in May.

Willingham hit .347 in 20 games in April with a 1.128 OPS, and had five home runs, 15 RBI and 13 runs scored. But in May, Willingham has cooled off, hitting .222 with two home runs, seven RBI and seven runs scored in 14 games.

Span hit .330 with five RBI and nine runs scored in 22 games in April but in May, he's been hampered by a sore hamstring, and he has played only 12 games, hitting .217 with two RBI and four runs scored.

Like Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said about the lack of team hitting: "We haven't got it done to this point and it's not just one guy in this lineup, it's a bunch of us -- we've got to figure out how to get runs across."

But there is hope now that Justin Morneau is back in the lineup and wants to play at first base the bulk of the time, which means that maybe Mauer will start hitting once he is moved back to being a permanent catcher.

Playing his first game in May after being on the disabled list with a wrist problem, Morneau went 1-for-5 on Wednesday. But on Thursday he went 2-for-4 with a two-run homer and three RBI.

Morneau raised his batting average to .241 in Thursday's victory over the Tigers.

Like Mauer said, there still might be hope.

Jottings

• Brian Duensing, who was a winning starter for the Twins in the past and then was shifted to the bullpen, will continue to be used as a relief pitcher, according to Gardenhire, despite the fact that the rotation is having problems. Duensing has an 0-2 record with an impressive 1.89 ERA in 17 innings.

• Despite having an 0-5 record and a 8.79 ERA, Twins pitcher Francisco Liriano said this hasn't been a tough season mentally for him. "It's not that tough for me. I've been there before," said Liriano about his move to the bullpen. "It's not tough for me. I just have to do my job from there.

"I just have to pitch and work on things that I need to work on and get better."

Liriano came in during a tough situation in the seventh inning Thursday and got a big double-play ball to help preserve the victory for P.J. Waters.

• Gophers basketball center Ralph Sampson III, who just graduated, has hopes of being drafted even though he was sidelined for the last seven games of the season because of a knee problem. Sampson's father, Ralph Jr., has been spending time here working with his son every day and hopes to help his son improve enough to be drafted.

• Saturday, Target Field will host the American Heart Association's annual Heart Walk. More than 25,000 people are expected to attend the event held at the ballpark for a third consecutive year.

• Former Wild star Marian Gaborik was benched for about 13 minutes in the New York Rangers' loss to New Jersey in Game 2 of the NHL's Eastern Conference Finals on Wednesday. Gaborik had failed block a shot by Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador that ended up being tipped in for the tying goal. About the benching, Gaborik said: "We had some momentum and they took over. I have to do a better job on the wall."

• White Bear Lake native Ryan Carter scored the tying goal in New Jersey's 3-2 victory Wednesday. Carter has two goals and two assists in 13 games for the Devils. ... Minnesota native Zach Parise has four goals and five assists in 14 games for New Jersey while former Wild defenseman Marek Zidlicky has a goal and six assists for the Devils.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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