ATLANTA – Braves righthander Jose Ramirez throws gas, but not too much for Joe Mauer to handle these days.
Mauer got hold of a 96-mile-per-hour fastball from Ramirez on Tuesday and drove it out to left for his 10th home run of the season. It capped another strong game for Mauer, who was 3-for-4 with a walk, two runs scored and one RBI as the Twins beat Atlanta 4-2.
Mauer has started to hit again, and that has led to a few theories as to how he’s setting himself up to finish the season strong.
He dismissed suggestions that his surge is because he’s wearing sunglasses during bright afternoons, or because he’s getting more days off.
The answer was in the video room at Target Field. That’s where Mauer was a couple of weeks ago when he noticed a flaw in his approach. That led to changes that have him spraying more line drives.
“I haven’t felt any different,” Mauer said. “There are things that happen during the season that you have to make an adjustment to. I had a real good week a couple weeks ago, and it was because I kind of found something. I’ve been using my legs more. Other than that, I’ve just wanted to try to keep it going.”
Mauer is batting .436 in 14 August games with two home runs, seven doubles, one triple and 11 RBI. He has a .516 on-base percentage and an .709 slugging percentage — a 1.225 OPS (on-base-plus-slugging).
His patience at the plate paid off early for the Twins on Tuesday. Mauer drew a two-out, four-pitch walk from Braves righthander Joel De La Cruz in the first inning, then raced home when Trevor Plouffe doubled off the center field wall.
Mauer’s batting average was .261 on July 31 when he incorporated changes to his approach. He batted .560 the first week of August to share AL player of the week honors with teammate Max Kepler.
That was quite a flaw he found.
“You get into bad habits, and I found something in the video that showed me that I wasn’t using my lower half like I should be,” he said. “I started working it in. It made my legs more sore, but I have been feeling good at the plate.”
He does wear sunglasses now when it is bright outside, but he said it has little to do with how he is hitting. He admitted that getting a day off helps him the two following days. But watching video has helped him attack the ball better.
Mauer is not the force at the plate that he was before he suffered a concussion in 2013. The 2009 American League MVP and three-time batting champion just can’t find that form. But Tuesday’s performance has his average now at .284, the highest it has been since June 17, and he has a chance to post his highest batting average since 2013.
To do so, Mauer will have to fight off bouts of streakiness. For instance, he batted .191 over the first 14 games following the All-Star break.
Mauer’s challenge will be to continue to lift his average while playing a little less. Manager Paul Molitor is determined to give him more days off over the final weeks of the season. Mauer appeared in each of the Twins’ first 41 games and 84 of 88 heading into the All-Star break. But Molitor already has not started Mauer in four games since the break.
“We’ve talked throughout the year as to how to use him the most effectively,” Molitor said. “And I think our most recent conversation was about how he was doing in terms of workload and given where we are at and also with some other people [to play]. There’s no sense to try to squeeze out every last little thing I can out of Joe this year.”
Are the days off helping?
“As much as I ran Joe out there the first half, I just decided I was going to look for more opportunities to give him a chance to recharge,” Molitor said. “It’s coincided somewhat with the fact that he is swinging the bat a little bit better. I can’t really speculate on how much those things are tied together.”