Mauer ready to return to Twins

Mauer ready to return to Twins

MINNEAPOLIS -- A pile of boxes sat on the chair in front of Joe Mauer's locker in the Twins clubhouse, awaiting the All-Star catcher's return.

Well, that wait finally is over.

After missing the first 22 games of the season due to inflammation in his right sacroiliac joint, Mauer was back at the Metrodome on Wednesday night to get final clearance from team doctors to be activated from the disabled list.

As the Twins open up the month of May, they'll do so with Mauer back in their starting lineup in Friday's contest against the Royals.

For the club, there is no question about the boost it will get just by having Mauer behind the plate once again.

"When he's not in the lineup and not in the field handling the running game and everything, you miss those things," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's an All-Star, and, you know, probably the best hitter in the league. So, yeah, you miss that a lot."

When the Twins departed Fort Myers, Fla., at the end of Spring Training, it was unclear just how long they might be without Mauer. But the feeling of all the players was the same -- the club would just have to try to weather his absence as best as possible.

The Twins managed to do that pretty well. Mauer will return to a .500 ballclub after the Twins went 11-11 during the first month of the season.

It's not exactly how the club hoped to start the season, but considering what it was missing, it didn't seem like too terrible of a result.

"It's a boost, because having him back, now we'll feel whole again," Michael Cuddyer said. "This team relies so much on having every piece of the puzzle fit. So when you do finally get all those pieces together, I think you can only believe in yourself a little more."

One of the biggest questions has been where Mauer will bat upon his return. Gardenhire said Wednesday that he plans to bat Mauer in No. 3 hole, the spot in the lineup the two-time American League batting champion occupied last season.

"No matter where I put him, it's going to be a nice thing," Gardenhire said. "But he'll probably be right in that three-hole, where he belongs."

Mauer played in five games for Class A Fort Myers during his official injury rehab assignment. He batted .400 (6-for-15) with two walks, two doubles and four RBIs over that span. Prior to starting his rehab assignment, Mauer also played in four extended spring training games.

Still, his teammates know that's not a lot of time to prepare for a season after Mauer missed all of Spring Training due to the injury.

"It would be nice if we can get everybody rolling the way we're capable of and just kind of plug Joe in there and not put too much pressure on him," Justin Morneau said. "He hasn't had too many at-bats to get ready for the season. We let him get in and get settled. Hopefully we can pick him up for a while and then he'll do what he can do. He's one of the best in the game at getting on base, knocking the ball and having good at-bats."

But it's not Mauer's offense the Twins are most excited about getting back -- it's what he provides the club with his play behind the plate.

"As a pitching staff, I think he knows all of us really well," starter Kevin Slowey said. "He caught all of us last year, and he knows our strengths and weaknesses. Obviously he's got one of the best, if not the best, arm in the game behind the plate. And I certainly think that he's going to help a lot in calming down the running game of other teams. I think a guy as special as him, any time you don't have him on or around the field, you are missing something. We are all excited to get him back."

Pitching matchup
MIN: RHP Kevin Slowey (3-0, 4.44 ERA)
Slowey delivered his best performance of the season in his last start, holding the Indians to one run on eight hits over eight-plus innings. The right-hander carried a five-hit shutout into the ninth, but he gave up three straight hits to the middle of the Cleveland order before he was replaced by Luis Ayala. Slowey finally appears to have gotten back to the form that made him so effective in Spring Training, mixing in his offspeed pitches while showing strong command of his fastball. He is 3-0 with a 2.16 ERA in four career appearances (three starts) against the Royals.

KC: RHP Sidney Ponson (0-3, 5.79 ERA)
The Royals still are trying to cautiously figure out what they have in Ponson. After lasting 3 1/3 innings and giving up six runs against the Indians on April 21, Ponson returned to better form against the Tigers in his last start. Ponson pitched eight innings and gave up three runs -- two on a home run by Brandon Inge -- but he was tagged for another loss. The Royals need Ponson to be a reliable innings eater, and Kansas City manager Trey Hillman is confident Ponson's slipup in Cleveland was a mechanical problem and not the beginning of a trend.

Tidbits
Carlos Gomez became a father for the first time on Wednesday morning, when his wife, Gerandy, gave birth to their son, Yendel. He weighed in at seven pounds, one ounce. Gardenhire said the family is fine, and Gomez will rejoin the team on Friday. ... Joe Crede has a six-game hitting streak, batting .292 (7-for-24) with two home runs and five runs scored over that span. ... The Twins' series win over the Rays was their first since Sept. 4-6, 2006.

Tickets
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On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• FS-N HD

On radio
• TRN 1500

Up next
• Saturday: Twins (Glen Perkins, 1-2, 2.48) vs. Royals (Brian Bannister, 2-0, 0.69), 6:10 p.m. CT
• Sunday: Twins (Scott Baker, 0-3, 9.82) vs. Royals (Gil Meche, 1-2, 3.77), 1:10 p.m. CT
• Monday: Twins (Francisco Liriano, 0-4, 6.04) at Tigers (TBD), 6:05 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.