Injured Mauer takes small steps towards returning to Twins

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 20, 2014 - 12:27 AM
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Joe Mauer, left, is checked by a trainer as manager Ron Gardenhire, right, comes out after Mauer's two-run double off Kansas City Royals pitcher James Shields in the fourth inning of a game, Tuesday, July 1, 2014, in Minneapolis. Mauer later left the game and has not played since.

Photo: Jim Mone, Associated Press - Ap

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It was only a game of soft-toss in the infield, followed by fielding a few ground balls, including a handful while on his knees. But for the Twins and their injured first baseman, Joe Mauer’s light workout Saturday was an excellent sign.

“At least he’s [doing] baseball activity,” General Manager Terry Ryan said. “Let’s wait and see what he comes in feeling like tomorrow. Maybe he’ll be able to swing pretty soon.”

That would be an even better sign, considering it has been nearly three weeks since Mauer strained an oblique muscle July 1. It’s an injury that sometimes can linger for six weeks or more, so the Twins are happy to see any progress.

“He said there are certain things he does right now — coughing and sneezing and things — where he still feels it,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “So he’s obviously not ready to take swings. He just wanted to get out on his feet a little bit.”

Vavra still sidelined

Third-base coach Joe Vavra stayed in the dugout for a second game in a row Saturday, because “putting him on the field is a little too dangerous,” Gardenhire said. “I don’t want to see one of my coaches go down.”

After a series of MRIs taken over the All-Star break, Vavra was diagnosed with a torn labrum in his left hip, an injury he attributes to simple wear and tear from working on a baseball field for decades. “It’s substantial pain. There were times this year when I wasn’t sure I could run down to third base,” he said. “I don’t know if I can get out of the way of a hard foul ball anymore.”

He is due for a painkilling shot on Monday, and hopes to return to his post then, while he mulls having surgery. In the meantime, Scott Ullger has moved from first base to third, and Paul Molitor is at first.

“It’s a different feel, different responsibilities,” Molitor said. Longtime Brewers first base coach Frank Howard once told Molitor that the job is to be “the master of the obvious,” Molitor said.

Hot Fuld on bench

It’s hard to notice, way down there at the bottom of the batting order, but Sam Fuld is the Twins’ hottest hitter. The outfielder has batted .429 in July, with a .528 on-base percentage, while collecting a hit in 12 of 14 games. He leads the AL in OBP and walks this month.

But he wasn’t in the lineup Saturday. Part of that is because the Twins were facing lefthander David Price, a tough matchup for a lefthanded hitter like Fuld. The other reason?

Sometimes, less is more, Gardenhire said.

“He’s been more of a role guy than an everyday guy,” the manager said. “When we played him every day, we killed him. You could see him just go right down because we beat him up. He plays pretty reckless out there, against the wall, diving, and we want to keep him healthy.”

Fuld, 32, said he doesn’t believe he needs regular days off, though he admits playing every day while Danny Santana was on the disabled list “was a lot of baseball. … Sure, everybody was banged up a little bit, a little tired. But I don’t feel like I need breaks.”

Etc.

• Righthander Trevor May, who missed the Futures Game because of a calf injury, made his first appearance on the mound since June 21 on Saturday, pitching three innings for Class AAA Rochester. May threw 47 pitches, gave up three hits and a run, with three strikeouts and a walk. “We need to get him stretched out now,” Ryan said.

• Ryan said the Twins have decided on who will start Tuesday’s game against Cleveland, but they aren’t ready to announce it yet. Yohan Pino is on rotation at Rochester.

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