Reusse: Detractors have no reason to pick on Mauer, Morneau

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 14, 2012 - 11:17 AM

The pair have battled through injuries to be productive again.

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Joe Mauer (left), Justin Morneau

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune file

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The Twins will have played 62 games when Philadelphia leaves town after Thursday's game. Barring a mishap, Joe Mauer will have started 56 of those games and have 250 plate appearances. Justin Morneau will have started 46 games and be close to 200 plate appearances.

These are hopeful trends in comparison to the final 62 games of 2011, when the Twins went 16-46 to finish at 63-99. Over those 62 games, Mauer started 39 games and totaled 166 plate appearances. Morneau started 14 games with 56 plate appearances.

That season-ending collapse caused the fan base to go from disillusioned to angry. And the conventional wisdom became that the Twins never again would see their former MVPs as regular and productive members of the lineup.

Mauer missed four games last week because of a thumb injury. Morneau had a stay on the disabled list when there was a flare-up in his surgically repaired wrist.

Still, in the midst of the pessimism of this spring over how much duty could be expected from Mauer and Morneau, there can't be anyone in Twins Land legitimately upset over what has been seen to this point.

The Mauer bashers became a legion last summer and they remain vociferous. What you're hearing now is that Mauer might be in the lineup regularly, but he's had as many starts at first base/DH as he has had at catcher.

Wasn't it last year that Mauer was being savaged for his unwillingness to storm into the manager's office and demand to play first base? And if he would only do that, the wear-and-tear of catching would be reduced and allow him to be in the lineup more often?

So, Mauer has adapted to playing first, and the Twins signed a second catcher who can get a hit in Ryan Doumit, and Morneau's back playing first, and that means the manager has a chance to use Mauer frequently as the designated hitter.

And we're mad about this?

More surprising is what's happened to Morneau. When he arrived in spring training, Morneau talked about how he wasn't going to keep fighting concussion symptoms -- that if they reappeared, he might have to quit.

Morneau wasn't suggesting he still had those symptoms on arrival in Fort Myers; only that a reoccurrence would be tough to handle emotionally as well as physically.

He also had received medical advice that symptoms were more likely to reoccur when he was worn down. As a precaution, he spent the exhibition schedule as a designated hitter.

That's the way the season started, until Morneau -- frustrated with his slow start -- said he wanted to play first base. He started playing there occasionally, and lately it has been full-time.

On Tuesday, Jimmy Rollins hit a ball inside the first-base line and Morneau took a dive. A year ago, he did that and the concussion symptoms returned. Not this time.

There are no guarantees with Morneau -- or Mauer. Joe has had a knee issue since his second game ever for the Twins in 2004, slipping on the Metrodome's carpet chasing a pop up behind home plate.

Mauer has 32 runs scored and 31 RBI. Subtract the three home runs once and that's 60 runs produced ... a solid number. Better yet, he has started to hit many more line drives.

He's not a pull hitter, so he's not going to hit home runs in Target Field, but he's also not going to play in another park that will hold the rocket to center field that he hit Sunday.

We keep hearing that the Twins have sunk under the anchor of Mauer's $23 million annual contract. Hogwash. I'd rather see $23 million spent on an outstanding catcher and hitter, than $8 million used on an average starting pitcher and $15 million back in ownership's pocket (which was the likely scenario).

And Morneau? It's been a struggle against lefties, mostly because of his minimal number of at-bats since he was kneed in the head almost two years ago in Toronto.

There's no way Morneau could bring in a trade what he still can be worth to the Twins.

Mauer and Morneau are the least of the Twins' problems today, and best hope for success as long as they stay healthy.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. preusse@startribune.com

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