MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Joe Mauer says he’s made “a lot” of progress, regained strength in his legs and gotten back the 15 pounds he lost when he was sick.
He’s still not ready, though, to target a date for getting back behind the plate for Minnesota.
Mauer took some swings off soft tosses and worked out on the field before Tuesday’s game against Detroit, and manager Ron Gardenhire said the goal is for Mauer to take full batting practice with the team this week. But Mauer said he’s being careful not to rush back and risk doing more damage.
He hasn’t tested his legs yet, however, by crouching or catching any pitches.
“You’ve got to get back into baseball shape, things like that. I’ve still got some work to do, and I wish I knew when I would be back,” Mauer said. “I know everybody else out there wishes, too, but I’ve just got to keep going in the right direction.”
Mauer has missed 24 games with a condition the Twins have called bilateral leg weakness. It was brought on by a light workload during spring training while he recovered from arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. He was stricken with a flulike viral infection that exacerbated the leg problem, and he’s been working his way back since the middle of April.
Asked again if he has a vision for his career in the crouch behind the plate, Mauer — in the first season of an eight-year, $184 million contract — said he still considers himself a catcher first, foremost and for the future.
“I’m not really thinking about long term right now,” he said. “I’m thinking about getting back out on the field right now. But I signed here to catch for eight years, and that’s what I’m planning on doing.”
Mauer reiterated the importance and necessity to him of being at full strength before he’s back. He said he doesn’t plan to ease back in by taking turns as the designated hitter.
“You play six or seven days a week, so you don’t have extra days for recovery time,” Mauer said. “So you want to make sure you’re strong and you’re ready to go and not just catch one night but catch six or seven in a row.”
He said he falsely assumed he could essentially catch his way back to full strength once the regular season started, but instead of getting stronger he got weaker instead.
“I thought I was good enough to go, and I guess I wasn’t,” he said, adding: “I was trying to fight through it the first part of the year, and look where it got me. It’s May. I’m going to do everything I can to get out on the field and to catch day after day, not just one or two.”
So, for now, he’s relegated to light batting practice.
“It looked like the ball was jumping off his bat,” Gardenhire said after watching Mauer’s mini-hitting session.
The Twins sure could use some of that to happen in a game.
Mauer’s absence is one of many reasons why Minnesota brought the worst record in the majors (12-21) to Tuesday’s game. Three other well-paid, typically productive regulars — Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Jim Thome and Delmon Young — are with him on the disabled list.
Nishioka has been out since the first week of the season after breaking his lower leg. Thome has made progress at the team’s minor league facility in Fort Myers, Fla., athletic trainer Rick McWane said, and felt no further problems with his strained oblique muscle. Young had five at-bats in an extended spring training game, and Gardenhire said he hoped the left fielder would return to the lineup for Friday’s game. Young is recovering from a strained left oblique muscle.
Trevor Plouffe, one of the middle-infield fill-ins for Nishioka, was unavailable for Tuesday’s game with a strained hamstring.
“Nothing you can do about it. Just move forward the best you can and prepare the guys that you have on the ballclub on the field,” Gardenhire said.
(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)