Missing Mauer: Twins awaiting return

Missing Mauer: Twins await return

CLEVELAND -- The Twins have felt Joe Mauer's absence in many ways over the first couple weeks of the season.

Perhaps none more profoundly than the way it has impacted the club's ability to stop the running game of its opponents.

Baserunners are 17-for-17 in stolen-base attempts against the Twins catchers -- Mike Redmond and Jose Morales -- this season.

"That is not going very good -- we haven't thrown anyone out," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I think our four caught-stealings have been pickoffs. We've had a couple of chances to throw [runners] out, and we haven't got them."

The coaching staff has been working with Morales on his mechanics, which they felt got a little sloppy after he played through his ankle injury last season. They've been getting Morales to use his legs more on his throws, and they said they've seen improvement in his throws between innings. Opponents have stolen nine bases on Redmond, but Gardenhire said that some of the catcher's throws have just been to the wrong side of the base.

"We do know Joe Mauer stops a running game," Gardenhire said of Mauer, who threw out 36 percent of basestealers last season. "He has a very strong arm, a very accurate arm. We know that for a fact. That's easy."

The Twins won't get to see Mauer try to shut down the Indians' running game this weekend, but they are still hoping that they will get a first-hand reminder of how Mauer can stop a running game in just one week.

Mauer, who is recovering from inflammation in his right sacroiliac joint, began his official Minor League rehab stint on Friday night for Class A Fort Myers. He caught seven innings of the club's contest at Jupiter and went 2-for-4 with an RBI double and an RBI single.

Gardenhire said before his club's contest on Friday that Mauer will catch seven innings again on Saturday night if everything goes well in the first game -- marking the first time that he's caught back-to-back games this year.

Mauer is scheduled to be the designated hitter in Sunday's contest, and then the hope is to have him catch all nine innings of Fort Myers' game on Monday.

All of the reports from Mauer's game action have been positive so far, and he's reported no problems with his lower back. But Gardenhire said that the team doesn't have any plans to speed up Mauer's return if things keep going well.

The Twins are still eying May 1, when the club hosts Kansas City, as the target date for Mauer's return.

"He didn't do anything all winter, and he didn't do anything all spring, and now all of a sudden he's caught 12 innings and everybody wants to move the schedule up," Gardenhire said. "He's caught 12 innings of baseball, and everybody wants to move the schedule up. If I close my eyes and listen to this, I'm thinking, 'Superman, that's who we're talking about.' "

Gardenhire said the team will watch and see how Mauer fares on Monday, when he catches nine innings.

"I think I'm as anxious as everybody to get Joe Mauer back up here," Gardenhire said. "We just want to make sure he can catch before we do that. I can't use our Major League season as a Spring Training. I can't start him and let him catch seven innings and then take him out. Not up here, that doesn't work."

Pitching matchup
MIN: RHP Kevin Slowey (2-0, 5.89 ERA)
In his last start, Slowey finally found the form that he had during Spring Training. After allowing 22 hits in 10 1/3 innings in his first two starts of the season, Slowey held the Angels to just two runs on six hits in seven innings, lowering his ERA from 7.94 to 5.89 in the outing, with his only two runs coming on a two-run homer by former Twins center fielder Torii Hunter. Slowey said that a key to his success was throwing a few more pitches out of the strike zone. Known for his stellar command, Slowey has realized that he has often been throwing too many strikes, and by making his misses less hittable, he feels he can produce better results. Next up for Slowey will be a start against the Indians. He is 1-2 with a 5.48 ERA in four career starts against the Tribe.

CLE: RHP Carl Pavano (0-2, 9.69 ERA)
Silencing the wrath of Yankees fans still bitter about his four unfortunate years in New York, Pavano pitched a gem at Yankee Stadium on Sunday. He went six innings, allowing just a run on four hits with a walk and four strikeouts before the bullpen blew the game and saddled him with a no-decision. Pavano felt he didn't have his best fastball, but he got quality results from his slider and changeup. All in all, he's made major strides since allowing nine runs in one-plus inning of work in his Tribe debut in Texas on April 8.

Twins tidbits
Both Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano pitched on Wednesday due to the doubleheader, but Gardenhire said that the rotation will stay in the same order as it was, with Baker pitching on Monday against the Rays and Liriano pitching on Tuesday. Gardenhire said that he wanted to keep the left-handers in the rotation -- Liriano and Glen Perkins -- from pitching back-to-back. ... Travis Hafner has rebounded from his rough 2008 season, batting .278 entering Saturday's contest. Gardenhire was asked if Cleveland's lineup is one of the tougher ones in the game now that Hafner is back to his old self. "Even when Hafner was down last year, I said that Cleveland might have been the best team in our division the last month and a half of the season," Gardenhire said. "They were playing great baseball. I heard somebody say then, 'If we had another two weeks, we'd catch them,' and they might have been right. They were playing really good, and that was without Haf in the lineup. He's pretty good when he's right. They have a very good lineup and a very good baseball team." ... Alexi Casilla snapped an 0-for-15 streak with his hit in the fifth inning on Friday night. Michael Cuddyer also ended a hitless streak (0-for-13) with his sixth-inning single.

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Up next
• Sunday: Twins (Glen Perkins, 1-1, 1.50) at Indians (Aaron Laffey, 1-0, 2.19), 12:05 p.m. CT
• Monday: Twins (Scott Baker, 0-2, 12.46) vs. Rays (Jeff Niemann, 1-2, 5.40), 7:10 p.m. CT
• Tuesday: Twins (Francisco Liriano, 0-4, 7.06) vs. Rays (James Shields, 2-2, 3.67), 7:10 p.m. CT

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