Joe Mauer is fretting. He is sitting in the Twins dugout, long before gametime Tuesday, worrying about the marriage of his new thoughts and his old swing, thinking about filing for an annulment.
The kid is hitting over .300, is about to extend his hitting streak to 11 games, but it is early afternoon and Mauer is headed for a round of early batting practice, more aware of his perceived weakness than his proven strength.
His old swing gave him a .347 average in 2006 at the age of 23, making him the first American League catcher to win a batting title. We wanted more.
We wanted a guy bigger than Paul Bunyan to yank the ball over the baggie, so after an injury-filled 2007, Mauer made the biggest mistake an athlete can make. He listened to us.
Local boy wins batting title, local fans crave power, local boy tries to make good.
This is like daytime TV fans asking Oprah Winfrey to break dance or Ellen DeGeneres to conduct a presidential debate. Mauer's success has always been based on the natural inside-out swing that made him the first pick in the 2001 draft, rocketed him through the minors and made him the toughest out in baseball in '06.
This spring, though, he started worrying about the inside pitch. He started spinning on his back heel, trying to torque the bat head around like Barry Bonds, and he lost his hitting equilibrium.
"I feel real comfortable driving the ball the other way and up the middle, when I'm feeling good," Mauer said. "I was trying to add to that, where if they do come inside, I wanted to feel as good with that pitch as I do when I go the other way."
How's that working? "Ahhh ... not so good so far," he said, shaking his head. "It's not really that I'm getting beat inside, it's that sometimes I'm thinking, 'Pull the ball,' where I would get a pitch on the outside that I would normally hit the other way. I'm trying to deal with that.
"I've been hitting a lot of ground balls to second, which has been kind of frustrating. I'm trying to get back to what I do and not be so conscious of it, where I just react to it instead of saying 'This is what I'm going to do this at-bat.' "
In the first inning Tuesday, Mauer had the perfect Mauer at-bat -- running the count full before jumping on a fat pitch and driving it into right-center for a triple. That hit gave him the 11-game hitting streak, tying his career best, and demonstrated why Mauer's fretting is remarkable.
Was it smart to mess with a swing that produced a .347 average? "No, I don't think so," he said. "But there are some things that I can do to get better and feel more comfortable with that ball inside, which I'm trying to do. It's just going to take some time to feel comfortable with it.
"The thing is, I'm getting away from my strengths, and that's what I don't want to do. But I want to be a complete hitter, so they don't have anywhere they can throw the ball."
His manager prefers the old Joe. Asked if the Mauer of '06 shouldn't be the model for the Mauer of '08, Ron Gardenhire said: "I would say that's real possible, since the talk was that people were trying to get in there and say hit off your back leg, spin off your back leg more, and you know what, that's not what Joe does best.
"Joe uses the whole field and is a high-average hitter. Joe is a 10-15 home-run guy. Maybe he could hit more, I don't know, but he's a .300 hitter. I think that's what we have and that's not bad, and for people who want him to hit more home runs, well, first you've got to have a guy who has that kind of swing, and that's not Joe's swing."
The manager is batting Mauer third. Perhaps the best strategy would be to bat him leadoff, where his high on-base percentage, lack of home-run power and willingness to work the count would best fit. Carlos Gomez could bat ninth and still get the benefit of batting in front of Mauer three or four times a game.
Even if Mauer remains in the No. 3 slot, he needs to refine his old swing, not invent a new one.
"That's the thing, I'm hitting .300 right now, and I haven't felt good at the plate all year," he said. "I want to get back to hitting line drives and finding those gaps."
Appearances aside, that's what he's built to do.
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. email@example.com