DETROIT – With the finish line in sight, Twins manager Paul Molitor is ready to ride his horse to the finish line. And that horse wears sideburns.
That horse is first baseman Joe Mauer.
Molitor said Friday that he intends to start Mauer in every game through the end of the season. After giving Mauer some days off, or using him at designated hitter in some day games following night games, he has preserved the 34-year-old Mauer to the point where he can be in the lineup every day as the Twins attempt to secure a playoff berth.
"I think when we got to about 15 [games left] we talked about it," Molitor said before the Twins' 7-3 victory over Detroit. "Asked him about playing the rest of the games and what we could do to ensure that he would feel good enough to do that. Maybe DH a couple of days. He said he's doing fine. He's doing what he needs to do to be ready every day."
Mauer on Friday played in his 135th game out of the Twins' 154. The 19 games missed sometimes touched a nerve with fans on social media, but it was Molitor's stated goal to keep Mauer as fresh as possible. And he did so most of the time with either DH work or a day off on day games following night games.
"Looking at the big picture, it has helped," Mauer said. "It is what it is."
And Mauer has rewarded Molitor by batting .308 with a .385 on-base percentage, his best season at the plate since his hit .324 in 2013 — and that's despite an 0-for-5 night with three strikeouts Friday. With 35 doubles, his next double will give him his most since 2010. His 68 RBI are his most since 2012.
If he plays in the final eight games, he will reach a total of 142 — only the fifth time he has played that many — and have a shot at over 600 plate appearances for the sixth time in his career.
"What, [eight games] left?" Mauer said. "Hopefully more. We're going to try to be ready."
There is one scheduled off day remaining, on Monday.
Hurricane Irma's wrath, along with the recovery efforts in Florida, have led the Twins and other teams with headquarters in the state to cancel the annual fall instructional league.
The league would be kicking off about now, with dozens of the younger prospects in each organization working on improvements and facing each other in games. But Irma, which hit the weekend of Sept. 8-9, has forced a change.
"We think [instructional league] is valuable," said Brad Steil, the Twins director of minor league operations. "There are things we want to work on before we get to spring training. Because of the timing of the hurricane and the delay and from talking to teams, we just don't want to push instructs back."
The Twins' facility in Fort Myers, which sustained minor damage, also is being used as a staging area for many helping with recovery efforts.
So instead, the Twins are bringing down about 20 of their top prospects — including shortstop Royce Lewis, the first overall pick in the June draft; outfielder Brent Rooker, selected with the 35th overall pick; and shortstop Nick Gordon, who played at Class AA Chattanooga this season — to Fort Myers for about two weeks of skill development as well as strengthening and conditioning work.
"It's more toward the traditional view of instructional league," said Derek Falvey, the Twins chief baseball officer. "More around specific areas of instruction and less around games."
Colon still a go
Bartolo Colon has a 13.09 ERA over his past three starts, but the plans are for him to start on Tuesday at AL Central champion Cleveland.
"I'm expecting him to bounce back," Molitor said of the 44-year-old. "It's going to be a challenge for anyone we run out there, right?"