Talk of tweaking approaches often is reserved for young players, trying to reach the next plateau, or washed-up veterans trying to hang on.
Joe Mauer is neither, and yet it’s the position in which he now finds himself.
The 31-year-old Minnesotan is meant to be in the height of his career, in the middle of an eight-year, $184 million contract. All logic says at some point, he’ll return to his former version, the one who has quilted together a decade of productive seasons in which he’s compiled a .321 batting average.
But right now, things are hairy. So he’s switching it up.
“He wants to do well, he wants to win,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He’s trying different things.”
Long with the reputation of being a patient hitter, one capable of a career .257 batting average with two strikes, Mauer is hopping on more first and early pitches in an attempt to “ambush” pitchers, Gardenhire said.
The element of surprise elsewhere is not much of a luxury anymore, 11 years of statistics having outed many of his hitting tendencies.
With opponents often shifting to crowd the left field line, Mauer — who is hitting .275 with two home runs and 15 RBI — is making outs on drives that used to create hits.
Only some adjustment can be made, though, and nothing is magic. Mauer went 1-for-5 in Thursday’s 5-4 loss to Texas, and has batted only .200 in the past six games. At some point, he just has to hit himself out of it.
“You can’t guide it,” Gardenhire said.
“I’d keep hitting it right on the screws and take my chances.”
Hicks held out
Gardenhire held center fielder Aaron Hicks out of the lineup for a second consecutive game out of precaution, he said.
“He told me he could play, but I’m leery of that,” the manager said.
Hicks, who announced Monday that he would no longer be switch hitting and hit only from the right side, was scratched from Wednesday’s game because of back spasms.
The change in his routine, along with a renewed work ethic in a player who has struggled since joining the big-league club, could have something to do with it, Gardenhire said.
“He just got a little goosey swinging righthanded, trying to do too much,” Gardenhire said. “He’s got a bat in his hands every five seconds. It’s a little overkill for him.”
In his place, rookie shortstop Danny Santana has been playing center field. Thursday, the Dominican Republic native registered a career-high three hits, along with the first steal of his major league career. Santana averaged 18.8 steals a game in six years in the minors.