As Mauer's recovery continues, Twins rely on Herrmann

The backup catcher is “playing very well” and has caught Gardenhire’s eye.

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Twins catcher Chris Herrmann is taking on a bigger role with Joe Mauer sidelined because of a concussion.

Photo: Jim Mone, Associated Press

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– Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was terse when first asked about Chris Herrmann’s play after a Friday victory over the Indians.

“I was mad at him because he didn’t get a bunt down,” Gardenhire said, looking serious. “I don’t know about you.”

But if you think Gardenhire is down on Herrmann, think again. On that particular night, Herrmann did just about everything else right. He doubled in his first two at-bats, driving in a run with the second. He threw out Michael Bourn when he tried to steal third in the sixth inning. He helped Samuel Deduno overcome early control problems to get through six innings.

Now that whole picture has been presented, here’s Gardenhire again.

“Herrmann had a great game,” the manager said. “The kid is playing very well. He’s swinging the bat really well for us. He made a really nice throw to get a very fast runner and he did a really nice job with Deduno, which is hard. There were a lot of balls in the dirt and he had to block a bunch. That’s not an easy task, and he did a nice job.”

With Joe Mauer out indefinitely while he deals with concussion-like symptoms, Gardenhire likely will split the catching duties between Herrmann, a sixth-round pick in 2009, and veteran Ryan Doumit. Aside from Doumit being able to switch hit and Herrmann being only a lefthanded hitter, they are about the same player. Both can catch and get by in the outfield — although Herrmann is a little more athletic.

But Gardenhire will get a chance to see a lot of Herrmann, who can increase his chances of opening the 2014 season with the Twins instead of again being called up from Rochester.

Herrmann, 25, is batting .230 with three homers and 15 RBI in 37 games with the Twins.

With Mauer out, Herrmann started the first five games of the recently completed road trip to Detroit and Cleveland, batting .286 with three RBI in those games. Four of his six hits last week were doubles.

He struck out as a pinch-hitter on Sunday, but just the fact that Gardenhire was willing to give him a shot meant a lot to Herrmann.

“I struck out, but I think he has faith in me and feels I can get the job done and that helps out a lot,” Herrmann said. “He can put me out in left field, right field, catcher. I think those things are important to him.’’

Herrmann has thrown out two base runners from the outfield, although he has been reminded about hitting the cutoff man instead of trying to throw every base runner out. And pitchers have approved of his work behind the plate.

“He tells me to not worry about [throwing] the curveball in the dirt,” Deduno said. “He’s going to block it. That makes me confident.”

Herrmann has a ways to go with the bat, but has showed some flashes of driving the ball. His grand slam in the 10th inning on July 23 against the Angels is one of the highlights of the season. More recently, he drove in the game-winner on Thursday in the Twins’ 7-6 victory over Detroit with a double off a curveball from lefthander Drew Smyly. He had missed a few curveballs but was all over that one.

He’s benefiting from the experience and making a good impression that could lead to a roster spot next season.

“Last year I got called up and really didn’t play that much,” Herrmann said. “This year I’m getting a lot more playing time and I’m kind of making a mark for myself. I feel like defensively and everything else is going good. I just need to be consistent with the bat. Once I figure that out, everything will be good.”

Gardenhire is in evaluation mode, trying to figure out just what he has in Herrmann, who has been poised in clutch situations.

“Exactly,” Gardenhire said. “And whether that is by design or he is still learning and doesn’t know any better. Those are the things you have to find out from a young player. Whether his veins are ice cold or he’s just not sure and is just going about his business.

“I like that part of it. He is just playing and enjoying it and doing a nice job behind the plate, or no matter where you put him. He’s doing good, his instincts are all right. He’s doing fine and we’re just letting him play.”

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