Hartman: Mauer sees potential, but not many Twins victories

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 15, 2012 - 11:39 PM

The catcher is back in form, but the team is struggling.

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Twins catcher Joe Mauer

Photo: Paul Sancya, Associated Press

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Joe Mauer says he is puzzled about why the Twins hold the worst record in baseball, because the star catcher believes the team has a lot of talent.

"You know, that's part of the frustration," he said. "We have a lot of talent, we have a lot of young players and they're learning how to play the game as they go along. It's been frustrating. Obviously you can see the potential and the talent these guys have, but the consistency isn't there. We just need to get better at that.

"We've been making mistakes, and other teams are capitalizing on that. Teams like Texas, good teams, are not going to let you get away with that. Like I said, we have to get consistent and we have to keep going out there and trying to get better each day.

"It's tough. We've had a lot of success here, and we really haven't played that well the last couple seasons. It's frustrating, and we're trying to get back to what we're used to and that's going to the playoffs and trying to get to our ultimate goal of winning a World Series. We haven't been playing very well, but hopefully we can turn that around."

On a positive note, Mauer, who played only 82 games last year because of various injuries, is healthy now. He has played in 80 of the Twins' 88 games this season and is having a typically productive year.

While Mauer's five home runs remains low compared to his breakout year in 2009, when he hit 28, there's no question that his eye at the plate is as sharp as ever.

He's currently posting the third-highest on-base percentage in his career at .416. Mauer had a career-high .444 OBP in his 2009 MVP season. He also posted a .429 total in 2006, when he won his first American League batting title by hitting .347. For his career, Mauer's OBP stands at .404, the second-highest total in the history of baseball for a catcher behind only Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane, who had a .419 career OBP.

Mauer, who after Sunday is hitting .327 this season, is also in a chase for the fourth batting title of his career. He's tied for fourth with Texas' Adrian Beltre in the American League race, trailing only rookie Mike Trout of the Angels at .349 and Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers at .330.

"I'm healthy," Mauer said. "You know last year, I was dealing with a lot of injuries and just battling to try and get on the field. This year I'm feeling a lot better healthwise.

"I'm not dealing with any of the problems that I was dealing with. But like I said, I'm always working back to get where I need to get to."

Prefers to catch

Mauer has started 39 games at catcher, 15 at first base and 24 as the designated hitter, but he wants to remain at catcher.

"I've always said that I feel we're a better team when I'm behind the plate, and that's what I've always worked towards, is being a major league catcher," Mauer said. "But if any good can come out of last year, it was the ability to go over to first, and I'm thankful for that.

"[But] I think we're a better ballclub when I'm behind the plate and have [Justin] Morneau in the lineup and [Ryan] Doumit also with his bat, too."

Still, Mauer said he understands how much better it is for his health to take some time at other positions.

"This year I've been over there, I've been DHing, I've been kind of all around the diamond. I think that's helped me play as many games as I have," he said.

It seems as if Mauer is hitting the ball well to left field again like he did during his more successful years, even though pitchers are pitching him inside a lot.

"Yeah, that's kind of what I do," he said. "I stay inside the ball and try to drive it the other way. I'm starting to feel better and just trying to get better every day.

"Every team [has] their different ways of positioning their fielders, and I think they tend to shift to the left side a little bit and I think that's what the pitchers have, they have the plan of throwing me away and maybe coming inside off the plate to try to get me out away. Each team has a different philosophy on how to pitch me and play me."

Mauer has taken a lot of abuse and criticism from the fans, but they have no right to blame him for the Twins' poor season. He's done his part and then some to try to help the team.

Interest in Capps

• Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports reported that the Angels are interested in trading for Twins pitchers Matt Capps and Francisco Liriano. The New York Post's Joel Sherman reported the Mets also are interested in Capps.

Mets relievers have the worst ERA in the majors and on Saturday lost a game for the 18th time this season. As for Liriano, ESPN reported that with his tough-luck loss Friday, he is the only pitcher since 1900 to strike out 15 and give up a grand slam in the same game.

The Twins were outscored 24-10 in their three-game series with the Oakland Athletics this weekend. Both teams had 33 hits during the series, but the A's racked up nine home runs to the Twins' four, allowing them to sweep the Twins.

Since being sent down to Rochester on July 4, pitcher Nick Blackburn is 2-0, has an outstanding 0.60 ERA in the 15 innings he has pitched and appears to be on his way back to the Twins.

Jottings

• Former Hopkins standout Royce White has played two games with the Houston Rockets at the Las Vegas Summer League. He's averaging five points, two rebounds and one assist through two games. ... Ralph Sampson III played his first summer league game with the Charlotte Bobcats on Friday and scored four points on 2-for-2 shooting in five minutes.

• The Class AAA All-Star Game was Wednesday at Buffalo, and the only player from the Twins' Rochester affiliate was infielder Pedro Florimon, who went 0-for-2 with two strikeouts in the International League's 3-0 loss to the Pacific Coast League. Florimon entered Sunday hitting .254 with three homers and 18 RBI for the Red Wings after starting the year at Class AA New Britain. ... Florimon's All-Star teammates included former Blaine High School star Dan Johnson, who is playing for Charlotte, the top minor league team of the White Sox. Johnson entered the All-Star break with 22 homers and 63 RBI in the minors, and he finished second in the Home Run Derby.

• In Portland the report is that there is bad blood between the Trail Blazers and the Timberwolves, who have signed Portland restricted free agent Nicolas Batum to a four-year, $46 million offer sheet. The bad blood started on draft night in 2010 when the Blazers traded Martell Webster to Minnesota for Ryan Gomes and the rights to Luke Babbitt. Webster needed back surgery, and the Timberwolves front office was suspicious that Portland knew he was damaged goods.

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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