FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — Joe Mauer insists he has put away his catcher’s gear for good after a season-ending concussion last August.
That doesn’t mean the newly converted Minnesota Twins first baseman won’t keep an eye on the position he held for most of the past decade.
Likely successor Kurt Suzuki, formerly of the Oakland A’s and Washington Nationals, is one locker away, giving Mauer ample opportunity this spring to pass along tidbits about the Twins pitching staff.
“I like Kurt a lot,” Mauer said. “I played against him quite a bit in Oakland. He’s a good catcher. He knows what he’s doing. We’ve been talking a lot about certain guys in here, guys that I have caught. It’ll be good.”
Rookie Josmil Pinto is the favorite to back up Suzuki, signed this winter to a one-year, $2.75 million deal. Pinto, who turns 25 on opening day, was a revelation at the plate after a late-season call-up in 2013, but his defense still needs work.
The Twins are hoping the 30-year-old Suzuki will help Pinto polish his rough defensive edges as he completes his recovery from a nagging issue with his throwing shoulder.
“He’s a baseball guy,” assistant general manager Rob Antony said of Suzuki. “He struggled some with the bat the last couple of years and he lost some time, but Oakland traded back for him (last August). When a team does that, that’s a pretty good sign they respect him a lot.”
Veteran catcher-outfielder Ryan Doumit was traded to Atlanta in December, netting the Twins Triple-A left-hander Sean Gilmartin. Defensive specialist Eric Fryer and versatile Chris Herrmann will battle Pinto for a likely backup job.
Before settling on Suzuki, the Twins offered a two-year deal to veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who opted to sign instead for one year with the Boston Red Sox. While Suzuki might not be as fiery as Pierzynski, Mauer’s predecessor with the Twins, he takes his job just as seriously, especially when it comes to working with his pitching staff.
“I want pitchers to feel comfortable throwing to me,” Suzuki said. “I want them to feel confident. That’s kind of my thing. That’s something I really take a lot of pride in.”
Suzuki’s throwing percentage plummeted last season as he threw out just 12 percent of attempted base stealers. In 2012, he threw out 30 percent. A revamped Twins rotation, now featuring veterans Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes, should hold runners well enough to give Suzuki a chance.
“It’s a team thing,” Suzuki said. “When a guy steals a base, a lot of times it’s not just the pitcher’s fault. It’s your fault, too, as a catcher unless you put the ball on the bag every time.”
NOTES: All but three of the 64 players invited to major league camp have arrived. The only players missing are Jason Kubel, Eduardo Escobar and Danny Santana. All are expected to be on the field by Saturday’s first full-squad workout. . LHP Edgar Ibarra, recently recovered from Hepatitis B, hopes to throws his first bullpen on Friday. . 3B Miguel Sano, the No. 3 prospect in minor-league baseball, is fielding grounders every other day as he works back from a strained ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow. He has been cleared to swing daily. . RHP Matt Guerrier, coming off August flexor tendon surgery on his throwing elbow, was given an extra day and will throw his next bullpen on Thursday.
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