Last season was another difficult year for Twins first baseman Joe Mauer, though he did show bursts of finding the hitting stroke he had before multiple injuries really hurt his career.

Mauer did play 134 games, and he continues to show that when he is healthy, he is ready to do whatever the club asks of him.

Twins manager Paul Molitor said recently that regardless of what has happened in the past few years, he still sees the 2009 American League MVP as a player critical to his team’s success.

“Joe’s career has had a few twists and turns physically and some things that happened on the field,” Molitor said. “He is still an important member of our team. People kind of focus on the average and power and things, but I look at leadership and how he prepares himself. He still takes as good of an at-bat as anybody on our team.

“I’m going to talk to him a little bit about how we can maybe look at using him in the most effective manner to keep him productive throughout the season. We saw a couple of really good stretches last year and then maybe a couple not-so-good, and he had to finish up with the injury. But I’m hoping Joe comes back with a healthy season. If we’re going to win significantly more games, he’s going to be a big part of that.”

Although the Twins got off to a terrible start last season on their way to losing 103 games, for the first 28 games Mauer looked like his old self, hitting .323 with a .447 on-base percentage, going 32-for-99 in his first 99 at-bats with 22 walks and 11 strikeouts. But after that he really struggled for more than two months, hitting .232 with a .319 on-base percentage over 65 games from May 6 to July 26.

Mauer showed one brief flash after that stretch, hitting .418 with two homers, 14 RBI and 15 runs over the next 19 games for the Twins, raising his average to .284, but it was short-lived. He finished the season hitting .146 over his final 22 games as injuries limited him.

Excited for 2017

Mauer is going to be the Twins first baseman for the foreseeable future, with Trevor Plouffe getting released and Miguel Sano moving to third base. It’s clear the Twins plan to use Mauer plenty over the final two years of his contract.

And for the 33-year-old Mauer, he says this offseason has been fantastic from a health and personal standpoint. He stayed most of the winter in Minnesota with his wife, Maddie, and their two twin girls, Emily and Maren.

“It has been great,” Mauer said before he left for spring training in Fort Myers, Fla. “I have been busy chasing my 3-year-olds around, and it has been nice. Been here back in Minnesota and looking forward to another year.”

About his health, Mauer said: “I feel great. I obviously had the injury at the end of the year to take care of, so I made sure to do the right things for that and let it heal, get some rest and right back in the weight room trying to build my body up for the season,” he said. “So I’m feeling great right now and I’m excited.”

Mauer said that the offseason wasn’t too different from past years.

“They’re all kind of different, after you kind of finish a season, especially injured, you have to take care of that injury before you can get back building your body up for the next season,” he said. “But it has been a great offseason. Like I said I’ve taken the time to get that right and put myself in a good position for this upcoming year.

“I mean I was feeling pretty good heading into last year. I really like where I’m at right now. … Also looking forward to that time in camp to get ready for April 3rd. I’m excited where I’m at right now, and I’m ready to go.”

Not worried about contract

When asked about the fact that his contract has only two seasons left on it, Mauer said that isn’t a concern for him at this point.

“I’m looking forward to 2017,” the three-time AL batting champion said. “I’ve always kind of been ‘let’s worry about this year first, go out and enjoy this year, and worry about next year next year.’ I’m excited about 2017 and the way we’re looking.”

Does Mauer think that this young squad can make a drastic improvement?

“I do, I think we have a lot of talent. We’re young, but I think that was kind of exposed a little bit last year. But you learn from that,” Mauer said. “You need to get that experience. In this game there’s a lot of failure, and I think some of our guys maybe failed for the first time. It was a learning season for a lot of us and hopefully, like I said, we can take that next step.”

Mauer said that he has no interest in taking days off, if he’s healthy.

“That’s because I was injured,” he said when asked about missing games last season. “I was playing every day up until that week down in Atlanta where it kind of got me with the strained quad, after that I really couldn’t bounce back. But like I said, I’m looking forward to a healthy season this year.”

When asked if he has a preference between being a designated hitter or a first baseman, Mauer said he still prefers to be in the field.

“I would say first base that’s what I’m preparing for,” he said. “I miss catching, but yeah, I’ve enjoyed first base.”

Yes, it has been a couple of tough years for Mauer, who has battled concussion symptoms and various injuries. But there’s no doubt that when he’s healthy, he can hit. The Twins and Mauer are hoping that’s the case in 2017.

JOTTINGS

• New Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck was asked what he expects his “Row the Boat” slogan can do for the program. “What these colored oars are going to do is raise awareness for a lot of organizations that are going to be driven by ‘Row the Boat,’ ” he said. “We’re going to bring a lot of awareness around our Twin Cities area and our entire state and university by having different colored oars, unsolicited, given out to so many people across our wonderful state. We look forward to doing that in the next coming weeks.”

• Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was asked if he believes he can get a good player in this year’s NFL draft without having a first-round selection: “Yes, and we’re going to have to do a great job in the draft this year. It’s always the best way to improve your football team is through the draft, as opposed to free agency. Obviously it’s a better way for your franchise to go, as far as monetarily, and the way the league is now, a lot of these young players need to come in and get ready to play, and plus you get them for a longer period of time. We feel like, and I believe [General Manager] Rick [Spielman] will do a great job as far as getting us where we need to get to. If there’s some guys there in the first round that we need to get up, then I’m sure we’ll do that, as well.”

• Pro Football Focus ranked 38-year-old Terence Newman as the ninth-best cornerback in the NFL last season, which is a good sign that the free agent will get a deal somewhere for a 15th NFL season if he doesn’t return to the Vikings in 2017.

• ESPN.com recently ranked the Vikings as having the 10th-best continuity in the NFL. Since 2012, the team has employed one general manager, two head coaches, three offensive coordinators, two defensive coordinators and three primary quarterbacks. The Patriots ranked first, as they have had the same general manager, head coach, offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator and starting quarterback for each of the past six seasons.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. E-mail: shartman@startribune.com