Injury-free Mauer raring to get after it in 2013

Injury-free Mauer raring to get after it in 2013

MINNEAPOLIS -- With Joe Mauer coming off his worst professional season in an injury-plagued 2011 campaign, the Twins set up a blueprint to keep him on the field in '12.

The plan worked to perfection, as Mauer ended up setting a career high in games played with 147 while returning to the elite form that makes him one of the best catchers in the game.

Mauer ended up hitting .319 with 10 homers, 31 doubles and 85 RBIs while leading the American League with a .416 on-base percentage.

But Mauer only caught 74 games while serving as designated hitter in 42 games and playing first base in 30 games. So Mauer's goal this season is catch more games, and general manager Terry Ryan says it's not out of the realm of possibility for him to catch as many as 125 games this year.

"I think I'll probably do more catching," Mauer said at TwinsFest. "A lot of the reason I went over to first base, especially early in the season, is we really didn't know what [Justin] Morneau's situation was. That's the way I've been preparing for the season, to be the everyday catcher. I can go over to first if they need me to do that. I can DH if they need me to do that too. But the way I've been preparing is catching every day."

Mauer, who said he's currently injury free, has been able to have a normal offseason, as he's fully past the knee issues that plagued him in '11. The only big change for him this offseason was that he got married in December.

"It's been a nice, normal offseason," Mauer said. "The last couple years have been concentrated on specific work or a sickness or stuff like that. It's nice to get after it."

He also has the confidence of knowing that he can still produce at the level that has made him five-time All-Star and the AL Most Valuable Player in '09.

He was an All-Star again in '12, and his numbers were eerily similar to his numbers in '08, when after a season in which he hit .329 with a .413 on-base percentage with nine homers, 31 doubles and 85 RBIs, he finished fourth the MVP balloting.

"I think it worked out real well last year as far as handling Joe and keeping him on the field and plenty of at-bats, all those at-bats we got and not beating him up too much," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I don't see any reason to change it too awful much from there. Games are going to dictate it, and the way we're playing is going to dictate it, and how people are swinging. But the important thing is, Morneau and Mauer both, keep them on the field, keep them in there."

But Mauer is tired of seeing the Twins struggle, as the club has finished with the worst record in the AL each of the last two years, after making the playoffs in the previous two seasons in '09 and '10.

He thinks this group can be much better, especially after adding Vance Worley, Mike Pelfrey and Kevin Correia to a rotation that had the third-worst ERA in the Majors last year.

"We expect to win around here -- everybody does," Mauer said. "Since I've been here, we've been pretty darn good, and we're trying to get back to that level. Last two years, we've had our fair share of injuries. Guys just not out there on the ball field. In '11, it was a lot of the position players, and in '12 it was our pitchers."

Mauer added he's looking forward to working with the new pitchers in Spring Training, but he'll have his time cut short in Florida, as he's set to play for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic for the first time.

But Mauer was given the blessing to play for Team USA by the Twins, who aren't worried about him being away from the team for a few weeks in Spring Training.

"I'm excited," Mauer said. "Any time you get a chance to represent your country, you jump at the chance. To bring my teammate [Glen] Perkins along, it's pretty neat. Two Minnesota boys playing for the USA Baseball team is pretty cool."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.