La Velle E. Neal III has covered baseball for the Star Tribune since 1998 (the post-Knoblauch era). Born and raised in Chicago, he grew up following the White Sox and hating the Cubs. He attended both the University of Illinois and Illinois-Chicago and began his baseball writing career at the Kansas City Star. He can be heard occasionally on KFAN radio, lending his great baseball mind to Paul Allen and other hosts. Mark Rosen borrows him occasionally for WCCO-TV.

Phil Miller covered three seasons of Twins baseball, but that was at a different ballpark for a different newspaper. Now Miller returns to the baseball beat after joining the Star Tribune as the Gopher football writer in 2010, and he won't miss the dingy dome for a minute. In addition to the Twins and Gophers, Miller covered the Utah Jazz and the NBA for six years at The Salt Lake Tribune.

Mauer catches in the bullpen. ``I'm still on schedule for Opening Day''

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: March 12, 2011 - 12:17 PM

Twins catcher Joe Mauer on Saturday caught Nick Blackburn's bullpen session then talked shop with Blackburn and Kevin Slowey.

Mauer struck a pose that hadn't been seen this spring training. He wore all his catching gear and gestured with his hands while he talked about the movement of Blackburn's pitches.

When he'll squat behind a plate during an exhibition game still isn't known. He did suggest that he could appear in a spring training game as a designated hitter sometime after Tuesday's scheduled off day.

When asked if he could appear in a game, ``a couple days after the off day,'' he sounded optimistic.

``Yeah I'd like to,'' he said. ``Like I said, it was the first day. We have to see how we feel tomorrow and the next day, but if I'm feeling good then, yeah, I want to get in there.''

Mauer said his legs are getting stronger and his knee feels good. He's been taking injections of Supartz, a lubricant that should help his left knee handle the rigors of catching this season. Supartz can be administered in up to five injections, but Mauer stopped at three.He had off season surgery on the knee to deal with inflammation..

``I feel close,'' he said. ``This last week I definitely made some big strides. When I first reported to camp I was a mess. But I feel pretty good. I feel like I'm using more of my leg. Even with hitting. I feel like I'm using my back leg more, where I wasn't able to use it a lot last year.''

He'll have to see how his legs respond tomorrow after catching in the bullpen but indicated he would need to catch in the bullpen a few more times before he's ready to do so in a game. He remains confident he'll be in the lineup on Opening Day.

``I don't think Opening Day was ever in doubt.'' Mauer said.



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