While in town this weekend for TwinsFest, Joe Mauer made it clear he would not wave his no-trade clause.
"I don't really react to any rumors [of being considered for trades this offseason] or anything like that out there," the Twins catcher said. "There's a reason why I signed to play here, and I love playing here. That's what I'm going to do."
Mauer, who was recently wed, said married life has been good and that he is in a lot better condition than he was after last season.
"It has been a really nice offseason," said Mauer, who had a baseball season in 2012 when he hit .319, led the league with a .416 on-base percentage, drove in 85 runs and participated in 147 games. By comparison in 2011, when he wasn't healthy, Mauer played in only 82 games, hit .287 and drove in 30 runs.
"I've been able to let the body heal and rest and get in the gym and take workouts," he said. "I've been able to get after my workouts. It's been a really nice offseason, I haven't had one of these like this in awhile. It has been really nice.
"I'm in a lot better shape than I was at this time last year, that's for sure."
Mauer said he has been doing a lot of workouts in the water.
"Doing my pool workouts and getting after it in the gym," he said. "In the last couple of weeks, I've slowly transitioned to doing baseball stuff."
About the 2011 season, he recalled: "I ended the season with pneumonia, so that knocked me out for quite a bit. I wasn't able to get out there and work out for quite awhile. I think it was probably around Christmas time when I could start working out. I had a much earlier start this year, and this year I'm feeling a lot better heading into spring."
Would prefer to catch
"I still feel that I can catch and catch every day," said Mauer, who caught 74 games last season and played 72 as a designated hitter or first baseman. "I'm looking forward to getting back out there.
"It was a little different last year for me, splitting time between the two positions. It definitely had a positive effect, I played in the most games I've ever played in my career, but it was a little tough to stay sharp at both. It will be good to have [new Twins bench manager and former catcher] Terry [Steinbach] there to keep checking up on me and make sure that I'm working and not losing anything on either side."
It appears the Twins will start the season with a healthy Mauer and Justin Morneau, which, with a little improvement in starting pitching, could make for a big improvement from the past two seasons.
Mbakwe feeling OK
Gophers senior forward Trevor Mbakwe, who has been favoring a bruised wrist and reinjured it in the final seconds of the 45-44 loss to Wisconsin on Saturday, was feeling better on Sunday and will be able to face Nebraska at Williams Arena on Tuesday.
"He jammed it pretty bad when he fell in the game at Northwestern," Gophers coach Tubby Smith said. "He'll play. He had an MRI, he's fine."
Mbakwe was hurt when Wisconsin's Mike Bruesewitz fouled him with 1.7 seconds left and the Gophers trailing 45-43. When Mbakwe had to leave the game, the Badgers selected Rodney Williams to shoot the free throws. Williams made the first, but missed the second.
While the Gophers have lost four in a row and are not the team that started the season 15-1, the good news is that they play four out of their next five games at home.
Starting with Tuesday's home game against Nebraska, the Gophers play in friendly Williams Arena against Iowa on Sunday, Illinois on Feb. 10 and Wisconsin on Feb. 14, with their lone road game during that stretch at Michigan State on Feb. 6.
Smith said he believes the team's 83-75 home loss to Michigan on Jan. 17 put the Gophers into a tailspin because they didn't play well.
"I don't know whether it's the fear of failure or the fear of success, we've had enough of that so far," Smith said. "As a coaching staff, and myself, we have to make some changes. Obviously we have to teach them in late-game situations, that's one thing that I've always prided myself on, is being able, if the game is close, we'll be able to outcoach or we'll find a play or make something happen to get the job done.
"But it hasn't happened, it hasn't happened for some time now, for a few years. We have to reevaluate how we're teaching in those teaching moments."
Smith said he knew the schedule was going to be tough even when the team started 3-0 in the Big Ten by beating Michigan State, Northwestern and Illinois.
Smith explained: "I said, 'Fellas, we have a lot of work to do.' There's a lot of improvement. When you go around the league, people know what to take away from certain players and from certain teams, and our group is well-scouted and well-documented that teams like Wisconsin have beaten us five, six times in a row."
He now believes the team can't afford to lose another game if they are to have a chance to win the Big Ten regular-season title.
"We're 3-4 right now, four [losses] in a row, three games out of first place, and we have 11 games left. We have time to correct the mistakes, and that's the way I look at it."
• While the in-state Gophers basketball players didn't have a good game against Wisconsin on Saturday, the Minnesota-born players for the Badgers struggled just as much or more. Bruesewitz of Henry Sibley went 0-for-3 from the field and was held scoreless in 24 minutes and Jared Berggren of Princeton went 1-for-7 with two points in 29 minutes.
• With the Orioles signing former Braves starter Jair Jurr- jens to a one-year $1.5 million contract, it would seem Baltimore is moving on from their pursuit of bringing back lefthanded starter Joe Saunders. On Friday, ESPN reported the Twins had offered Saunders a one-year contract and were waiting to hear back from his agent, Greg Genske.
• Former Twins starting pitcher Kyle Lohse, who turned his career around playing with the St. Louis Cardinals and became one of the best pitchers in the National League, still is a free agent. But don't look for the Twins to enter the race to sign Lohse because the 34-year old is asking for a four-year contract, has a history of contention with manager Ron Gardenhire, and signing Lohse would cost the Twins a first-round draft pick.
• Former Gophers basketball player Kevin Payton had a big game Sunday to lead the Xion Dukes Klosterneuburg to the Austrian Cup title with a 72-59 victory over BC Vienna. Payton scored 15 points, after averaging 9.6 points per game this season.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org