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Mauer learns to deal with daily grind

Mauer learns to deal with daily grind

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ANAHEIM -- Twins strength and conditioning coach Perry Castellano has joked that one of his primary jobs is to make sure catcher Joe Mauer remains close to his Spring Training weight all season.

The daily grind of catching can certainly take its toll on a player. From the bumps and bruises endured behind the plate to having to squat for numerous innings at a time, catchers can often wear down as a season progresses.

Mauer admits the physical wear of catching impacted him during his 2006 batting title chase. Now, as Mauer leads the American League in hitting once again with a .322 batting average, he said he's still dealing with similar issues.

But this time around chasing a batting title, he feels more prepared. At least physically, that is.

"I've learned a lot over the years and when I'm not feeling so good, I maybe back off on some things like the day-to-day stuff," Mauer said. "Sometimes, it doesn't feel like I've done a whole lot to get ready for a game. But it saves some energy so I feel good at game time. I think I've become a little smarter in that."

Over the past few seasons, Mauer has spent a lot of time talking with catcher Mike Redmond about how best to get his body through the long, taxing season. And he believes that the slight changes he's made have had an impact.

Mauer said that he feels stronger at this point in the season than he did in '06. And after enduring an injury-plagued 2007 season, Mauer seems to appreciate the simple fact of just being on the field. He said he's always tried to do everything he could to stay healthy, but the trials of last season have taught him that perhaps he was going about it the wrong way.

"I guess I have a better feel for what my body can and can't do, as weird as that sounds," Mauer said. "Now, I've learned that less is maybe a little bit better."

Mauer's ability to maintain his strength at this point in the season is one of the reasons that manager Ron Gardenhire didn't hesitate to put his catcher back in the lineup for the Sunday afternoon finale against the Angels.

It was the fourth straight start for Mauer behind the plate and only a tad unusual because he started Saturday night's game. Gardenhire usually tends to give his catcher a rest in day games after night games, but he said that Mauer felt he was ready to catch.

That doesn't mean that days off still aren't necessary for the catcher. Gardenhire plans on giving Mauer a day of rest either Tuesday or Wednesday when the club is in Seattle. That's when the Twins begin a stretch of facing six straight left-handers and Gardenhire said it will allow him to give Mauer more rest time.

Time to rest could be critical for Mauer down the stretch in not only the Twins' playoff chase but his own quest for a second batting title. Mauer said he's more focused on the former.

"Another batting title is something I'm not totally looking at right now," Mauer said. "Obviously, it would be nice but I'm more interested in getting to the playoffs than anything else."

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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