MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Joe Mauer walked into the Minnesota Twins clubhouse on Thursday morning and told team trainers that he could not play because of a stiff neck.
It was tough news for the reeling Twins, who are dealing with a number of injuries and were dominated in a home series by the lowly Baltimore Orioles.
And the news only got worse as the day wore on.
Francisco Liriano became the latest Twins player to hit the disabled list after lasting just two innings and Minnesota fell 6-1 to the Orioles on Thursday for their fifth straight loss.
Liriano gave up one run on two hits with three walks in two innings before leaving with a posterior strain in his left shoulder. That forced the Twins to put Friday starter Anthony Swarzak (3-4) into the game, and he gave up five runs on eight hits in 3 1-3 innings of relief.
The Twins were outscored 24-4 in the series by the AL-worst Orioles and were swept at home by Baltimore in a four-game set for the first time in franchise history.
“It’s frustrating, definitely,” Mauer said. “It’s been like this all year. We just can’t get guys on the field and get them on the field healthy. Obviously if I was able, I would’ve been out there today. But I just couldn’t go.”
Mark Reynolds hit a three-run homer and Jo Jo Reyes (7-10) allowed one run on five hits in six innings for the Orioles.
Justin Morneau had two hits, including an RBI double, for the Twins, who have scored one run or fewer in seven of the last 10 games.
Before the game, athletic trainer Rick McWane was discussing Mauer’s injury, which happened while he was tracking a fly ball while playing first base Tuesday night, when manager Ron Gardenhire interjected.
“Joe has to be available,” he said. “I only have one other catcher. If something happens to Drew (Butera), I told Joe, `You have to go in the game. We have no other choice.”‘
Mauer told them he would try to play if he was needed.
“He said he was going to have a hard time looking up for a pop fly. I said I’ll tell somebody else to go catch it,” Gardenhire said before the game.
Asked after the game if he could’ve played, Mauer said, “It wouldn’t have been a good idea, no.”
He said he had limited range of motion and “could barely drive” to the ballpark. He tried to hit several times during the day, but it was too sore.
It’s been a difficult season for Mauer and the Twins. Their star catcher, who is in the first year of an eight-year, $184 million extension, has played in just 70 games and is hitting .287 with one home run and 25 RBIs.
He missed most of the first two months of the season with a mysterious leg injury and has also had difficulties with a bad knee and the general soreness that comes from catching.
All the missed has put the hometown golden boy under criticism from fans for the first time in his life, and he was asked after the game about a perception that he is “soft.”
“Who’s saying that?” Mauer asked. “I think you ask anybody in here, anybody in this organization, they’ll tell you different.
“Ever since I came back I missed one game. People know in here how tough I am. I come to the park ready to play. Today I just physically I couldn’t get out there.”
Mauer certainly isn’t the only Twins player who has been hurt this season. The Twins have used the DL 24 times for 17 different players, including Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, Jim Thome and Denard Span.
“Not even in roller (derby) do you have this many injuries,” Gardenhire said.
Even two of their most durable players have had their difficulties lately. Danny Valencia did not come to the ballpark on Thursday because he needed a wisdom tooth removed.
Michael Cuddyer missed nine games with a neck strain earlier this month and was hit by a pitch in the game on Wednesday night. An MRI on his left wrist came back negative on Thursday, which came as a surprise to everyone who heard the impact.
“It’s not good, but it is what it is,” Cuddyer said after going 1 for 4. “It’s not broken, so I can go out there and play.”
Said Gardenhire: “That’s just the way he is. He comes every day. No matter where I tell him he’s going to play, he just grabs a different glove and goes about his business. Whether he’s tired or not, fouled one off of his foot, it just doesn’t matter with him. He wants to be out on the baseball field.
“It’s not surprising at all. It’s refreshing, but not surprising.”
Mauer said he will make some adjustments to his offseason regimen to try to make himself more durable, but for now he’s concentrating on returning as soon as possible.
“It’s been a grind, not just this season but in the offseason and to finish up last year,” Mauer said. “I’ve just got to get healthy.”
NOTES: Hitters 5-9 went 1 for 17 with a single, three walks and four strikeouts. … The Twins have lost 13 of their last 15 home games. … The Twins continue their home stand with a series against the AL Central-leading Tigers. With Swarzak rushed into emergency duty on Thursday, LHP Scott Diamond was recalled from Triple-A Rochester to start against Detroit’s Rick Porcello.
(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)