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Mauer back where he belongs

Mauer back where he belongs

ARLINGTON -- Heading into Spring Training this year, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire envisioned Joe Mauer as his No. 2 hitter.

Although Mauer had spent the majority of his career batting third for the Twins, Gardenhire's concern over having a young leadoff hitter made him decide to move the catcher, who has a career .393 on-base-percentage, up a spot in the order.

But just four weeks into the season, it appears that Mauer is back in the three hole for good.

Mauer began the year in the No. 2 slot before shifting to third early in the season after Michael Cuddyer went down with his dislocated right index finger. When Cuddyer returned to the lineup on Friday night, Gardenhire decided to keep Mauer in the three hole. He then moved Cuddyer to fifth in the order, which the skipper felt created a little more depth in his lineup.

And so far, Gardenhire has been pleased with the move.

"I honestly like [Mauer] batting third," Gardenhire said. "I like [Justin] Morneau batting fourth and Joe batting third. I like it when those two guys come up together. And I don't care if it's against a lefty or a righty."

The emergence of Brendan Harris at the plate has allowed Gardenhire to put him in the second spot while keeping Mauer and Morneau back-to-back in the three and four spots.

"Brendan is getting some swings," Gardenhire said. "He can shoot the ball the other way. I just think he does pretty good up there. He's tried to shorten his swing a few times and can put the ball in play."

After going through a slight skid early in the season, Mauer has been rounding back into form of late. He came into Sunday's game with a nine-game hitting streak over which he's hit .389 with four doubles and five RBIs.

Part of the change, Gardenhire believes, is Mauer's return to his old strengths. During the spring, Mauer tried to focus on hitting the inside pitch, swinging more off his back knee. He carried that approach into the early part of the season, but lately it appears that he's going after more pitches in the middle of the plate and away in the zone.

"I think he realized that it's not really his forte," Gardenhire said. "Just put the barrel on it, and he does OK. ... I just think Joe is starting to feel better right now with his swing. He's starting to look comfortable."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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