FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — Joe Mauer is back to crouching behind the plate, a bit tired but still committed to being a catcher.
The rehabilitating Minnesota Twins star caught three innings Thursday in an extended spring training game, his first action on defense since he was sent to the 15-day disabled list nearly two months ago with weakness and soreness in his legs.
Mauer went 0 for 5 at the plate, with two flyouts to left field and three groundouts to the right side of the infield against a group of Tampa Bay Rays minor leaguers on a 94-degree afternoon. As he stood in the shade after the game, he said he was out of breath and “a little fatigued” but otherwise feeling fine.
“There’s a lot of pain gone, which is good,” Mauer said. “I was in a lot of pain to start the season, and that was a reason why I had to go on the DL. Getting back here today, moving around, I felt pretty good.”
After missing most of spring training following a slow recovery from arthroscopic surgery over the winter on his left knee, Mauer was never able to get going once the regular season began. He last played for the Twins April 12.
Despite the wear and tear on his body, Mauer said he’s not concerned about changing positions.
“I’ve been asked that question ever since I was 20 years old,” Mauer said. “My answer hasn’t changed. I’m 28 years old. I signed for eight years to play catcher. I don’t see any reason to change that right now.”
Mauer said he planned on being the designated hitter in a game Friday before deciding when to catch again. The Class A Fort Myers Miracle have home games Saturday through Monday and Wednesday through Friday next week, raising the possibility of Mauer getting more at-bats and time behind the plate. His older brother, Jake Mauer, is the manager of the Miracle.
“I tell him all the time that if it happens, I better be catching, and I better be hitting third. That’s just fun,” Joe Mauer said. “That’s the bright spot, I guess, being down here in Florida, spending more time with my brother. But he knows as well as I know that I’m trying to get back up there as soon as I can.”
As far as Mauer’s return to the majors, the Twins have declined to publicly reveal a timetable.
“The progression depends on how he feels,” minor league field coordinator Joel Lepel said. “I know everyone in Minnesota wants him back, but we’re being patient and cautious. I think there has been a lot of progress. He’s moving around just fine.”
Missing time has been tough to stomach, Mauer said, particularly with the Twins languishing with the worst record in baseball.
“Injuries happen in baseball. It’s part of the game, and it’s part of the game I don’t like a whole lot,” Mauer said. “But we’re at where we’re at, and I’m going to try to get back on the field and do the best I can.”
He added: “I’m going to try to do whatever I can to help turn things around. Hopefully I can get back up there and get back with the fellows and maybe make a difference.”
Mauer faced 18-year-old right-hander Ely Echarry during his first three at-bats.
“It’s very difficult, because you just don’t know what the pitcher is going to throw,” Rays minor league manager Joe Alvarez said of playing in extended spring training. “One ball might be behind the head. One might be over the plate.”
Tsuyoshi Nishioka, recovering from a broken left leg, started at shortstop Thursday and played a full nine innings, going 0 for 3 with a walk. He is eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list Tuesday.
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