DETROIT -- Joe Mauer has been fighting through leg problems to stay on the field all season, but it appears he won't have to do it much longer. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said he talked with Mauer on Sunday night and told the catcher he only will get one or two more starts behind the plate the rest of the season. Mauer definitely will catch Johan Santana in Wednesday's series finale with the Tigers, but that's the only guaranteed playing time he will get over the last week. The catcher has been dealing with a sore hamstring, a possible hernia and a bit of a sore right knee from compensating for the weakened leg.
"I don't want to keep forcing this issue," Gardenhire said. "I told him, 'I know you want to play out the season, but it's just kind of asinine to sit there and watch you hit a ball and run like that.' He bounces out on a chopper and he can hardly move." Mauer has admitted he's been running at far less than 100 percent. "That's about as fast as I could go," Mauer said of the slow jog he took on a recent grounder. "I have a pretty good idea of what I can do right now and what I can't do. I'm just trying to get to that point, but not go over it. Really, I'm just trying to get through these games and not hurt anything worse." It's that sentiment which has Gardenhire feeling the best thing might just be to limit Mauer's time as a catcher to one more start. With backup catcher Mike Redmond sidelined for the rest of the season due to sprained ligaments in his left middle finger, the Twins are left with just two healthy catchers: Chris Heintz and Matthew LeCroy. It was LeCroy who got the start behind the plate on Monday night, as he's hit .565 (14-for-23) with four home runs off Tigers left-hander Nate Robertson. Mauer will not make any starts as the designated hitter. Gardenhire said Mauer could be used in a pinch-hitting role, but the skipper then would replace him with a pinch-runner. Considering all Mauer has fought through this season, now seems a perfect time to finally let him rest. "He's given us everything he's had the last month, when we were trying to get back in this thing," Gardenhire said. "So to try and continue to do it just seems silly." Welcome back: LeCroy's start behind the plate on Monday night was his first in the Major Leagues since May 25, 2006. It was quite a memorable game for LeCroy, but for all the wrong reasons. It came when LeCroy was playing for the Nationals. The Astros stole seven bases off LeCroy, who also had two errors, prompting Washington's manager at the time, Frank Robinson, to replace LeCroy in the middle of the seventh inning. Robinson broke into tears during his postgame press conference when asked to explain the move. But LeCroy handled the situation well, saying, "If my daddy was managing this team, I'm sure he would have done the same thing." LeCroy has been behind the plate since that infamous day, catching 30 games for Triple-A Rochester this season. Still, he got plenty of chiding from his teammates and coaches about that game on Monday -- even prompting some remarks to not make his manager cry this time around. LeCroy has taken all of the teasing and the situation in stride for one reason -- he still loves being behind the plate. "I love catching, I always have," LeCroy said. "You know, it's just one of those things. You just have to let it go and keep playing." Hard knock lesson: Eli Tintor, an outfielder in the Twins' Minor League system, has been suspended 50 games due to violating the Minor League drug testing policy. It is Tintor's second offense. Both times he tested positive for a drug of abuse, not a performance-enhancing drug. His suspension will begin at the start of the 2008 season. "It's unfortunate that this comes about, but a player has to be accountable for their actions," said Jim Rantz, the Twins' Minor League director. "We educate the players in Spring Training and throughout the season on the club's policies as well as those from the Office of the Commissioner. But in the end, it's up to the player." Tintor, 22, began the year at advanced Class A Fort Myers, but he spent the second half of the season with the lower Class A Beloit club. He hit a combined .235 over 109 games with seven home runs and 43 RBIs. The Hibbings, Minn., native was the club's 18th-round pick in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft. Twins tidbits: Prior to game time, Gardenhire and his staff had not heard any news of when Scott Baker might return to the club. Baker's son, Elijah, was hospitalized with an illness, but Gardenhire said the boy has been allowed to go home. The Twins have not yet decided if Baker will make his next start or if they will give it to Boof Bonser. ... Triple-A Rochester manager Stan Cliburn, who currently is with the big league club, will manage the Aguilas club in the Venezuela Winter League. Most of the Twins prospects play for the Aragua Tigres, but Cliburn said at least one will be playing for his team -- outfielder Darnell McDonald. ... Lew Ford originally had been slotted into left field for Monday's game, but he was scratched due to what Gardenhire called a "sore hand." Coming up: The Twins and Tigers will face off again for the second game of the series on Tuesday night in a 6:05 p.m. CT start. Right-hander Matt Garza (4-6, 3.72 ERA) will try for his first career victory over the Tigers as he takes on Detroit righty Yorman Bazardo (1-1, 3.24).
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.