Gardenhire looking forward to penciling in Mauer at new position

Manager’s worries about former catcher’s health will be minimalized.

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With Joe Mauer's move to first base, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire won't have to worry about Mauer taking punishment behind the plate.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune file photo

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Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has written lineup cards with Joe Mauer at first base and designated hitter — even one game with No. 7 in right field — in order to get the most out of his three-time batting champion.

Now Gardenhire doesn’t have to worry about Mauer recovering from a foul ball off his chest, arm or mask. He no longer has to tell people “I have to check on Mauer first” before finalizing his lineup.

Checking on Mauer first now will become checking out Mauer at first.

With Mauer now a full-time first baseman, Gardenhire can sit back and see just how much damage the sweet-swinging St. Paul native can do.

“I think you have to understand that when Joe is out there catching a lot, he is playing beat up a lot,” Gardenhire said. “When you are bending over and squatting and taking balls off your chest and off your elbows and shoulders, you’re beat up. That’s just the way it is and you have to play with it like every catcher does. These are things he’s not going to have to do. Squatting and all the drills and the bullpen sessions and all the things catchers have to do.

“You look at him and see how more healthy he can be now and stay fresher. If anyone can get better [offensively], Joe Mauer can get better, but he’s pretty damn good as we speak. We’ll see. I think it will be interesting to see everything that goes from here. He’s a great baserunner but as he’s gotten beat up, he hasn’t run a lot. Who knows? Joe might just start stealing bases, too.”

Mauer is the current leading active hitter in baseball with a .323 batting average and sixth with a career .405 on-base percentage. The more he’s on the field to put those numbers in play, the better off the Twins are. With a $23 million average salary, Mauer goes from being the highest paid catcher to the fourth-highest paid first baseman. And the more he’s on the field, the more times the Twins can cash in on their hefty investment.

It will be interesting to see if there’s an increase in power. He has hit 105 home runs in his 10-year career, 28 of them coming during his MVP season of 2009. He’s an opposite-field hitter who has suffered from the move to Target Field. But today the Twins can dare to dream about what a fresher Mauer can do when he digs in at the plate.

“I think I will be lot more healthy,” Mauer said. “There have been many times when I’ve gone up to the plate with foul tips off the shoulder and legs or I could not feel my hands. I talked with [Justin] Morneau, who was a catcher way back in the day, and he said, ‘You are going to be amazed how much better you feel.’ I’m looking forward to that.”

Gardenhire didn’t rule out a uptick in Mauer power.

“Joe is capable of doing a lot of things,” Gardenhire said. “He is just a great hitter. It’s something I haven’t had to worry too much about. Now if we can get people on in front of him, he would have an opportunity to drive in some runs.”

With Mauer at first, the Twins now look to shore up their catching position. Ryan Doumit is considered a part-time catcher. Rookie Josmil Pinto batted .342 in 21 games late in the season but has to improve his catching skills.

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