The Twins were playing Baltimore at Target Field on May 4. Joe Mauer left the game because of a sore back and did not play for the first five games of a road trip to Cleveland and Detroit.
Minnesota’s sports fans seemed to be possessed by the Wild’s playoff quest and the Vikings’ involvement in the NFL draft, yet many took time during Mauer’s absence to aim insults at baseball’s 16th highest-paid player and the Twins as a whole for their “softness.’’
The consistency with which Mauer has vacated the lineup through various maladies over the past four seasons has been a mystery to all. The solution at which the Twins arrived, to move Mauer to first base, succeeded through the first 28 games, and then came the agitation to the lumbar region.
Like that, he was getting bashed again, and for $23 million per annum, a player now notorious for missing stretches of the schedule should expect as much. The unfairness was in the shots taken toward a collection of teammates who have been admirable with their feistiness as the season approaches the quarter-pole.
Anyone suggesting the Twins have a softness problem has not watched Brian Dozier play second base through the first 38 games. He has dived for every ball and hung tough on every double play, while delivering power and runs as a hitter.
Nothing could be more preposterous than to suggest Kurt Suzuki has any softness in him as a catcher. He’s the best receiver the Twins have had since Mauer was at his best, and that was five years ago.
Another player worth noting for his commitment to the task this season is third baseman Trevor Plouffe. He was a member of the notorious “Fun Bunch’’ of young players during the disaster of 2011, and his play at third base often resembled Manolete, the legendary Spanish matador.
Yet, there was a different look about Plouffe as a hitter this spring, and his blunders have been reduced at third base (a bad throw on Wednesday notwithstanding). Plouffe went through a luckless 0-for-23 entering this Boston series, and it did not seem as though all those hard-hit outs in that stretch defeated him as in the past.
Josmil Pinto is much more than a happy-to-be-here rookie. Look at him and you see a player intent on becoming a very dangerous hitter and improving his still flawed catching skills.
Eduardo Escobar is giving all he’s got. Chris Colabello gave more than he’s got for most of April. The veteran Jason Kubel and the newest rookie, Danny Santana, have no reason to apologize for their desire to help the cause.
The true Twins followers are entitled to be both confused and frustrated with Mauer. They can grouse over Josh Willingham going from 35 home runs in 2012 to 14 in 2013, to being waylaid again with a wrist injury that came after six games.
They can wonder what’s going on with Oswaldo Arcia, a hitter of big potential who can’t stay in the lineup, whether in Minnesota or at Class AAA Rochester.
Is Arcia soft or is he naïve? Either way, the Twins need someone to sit down with this 23-year-old and make him understand the potential piles of money that he’s leaving on the table by missing games.
Mauer’s injury problems have nothing to do with Arcia’s unreliability. There’s no culture with the 2014 Twins that promotes “softness.’’ If there were, Arcia would have been called up to the Twins on Wednesday, rather than being told to stay in Rochester and play.
As in, PLAY!
Dozier and Suzuki have been as hard-nosed about this game as it gets. And Pinto, Plouffe, Escobar, Colabello, Kubel, the new kid Santana … there has been plenty of try in these players to help a lineup that had an overmatched look entering the season.
There were times over the previous three seasons when you wondered with the Twins how many of the athletes actually wanted to be everyday players. It was so bad for a time that I suggested the Twins have a whirlpool on the cover of the annual media guide.
You can change that now to a cover with Dozier and Suzuki, as role models for the current Twins, as players with no more to offer.
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. • preusse@ startribune.com