Slumping Mauer gets a breather

Slumping Mauer gets a breather

OAKLAND -- Joe Mauer has always hit with such consistency that his Twins teammates joke about being shocked on days when the catcher puts an 0-fer up in the box score.

That's why Mauer's recent skid at the plate has seemed so unusual for the two-time batting champ.

In his past five games -- dating back to July 11 -- Mauer is just 1-for-22 (.045) with no extra-base hits and seven strikeouts. He also tallied just one RBI and one walk during the span.

When talk of Mauer hitting .400 first surfaced in June, the catcher reminded everyone that it was a little early to start discussing that, as slumps were inevitable.

But has his manager, Ron Gardenhire, still been surprised to see Mauer go through this kind of rough spell?

"A slump is a slump," Gardenhire said. "I don't know if we should even call it a slump. He's just not getting any hits right now. In Texas, one of his first at-bats was a line drive to center where the guy dove and caught it. You are going to go through that. And you are going to get a little tired.

"We all got to take advantage of an All-Star break, and really he didn't for the first two days -- taking part in the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game -- plus flying back after the game that night. So the effects might be getting to him a little bit."

Gardenhire made the decision to give his catcher a breather in Monday night's series opener against the A's.

It comes after Mauer went 0-for-6 for the first time in his career on Sunday night in Texas -- dropping his average to .358 on the season -- while catching all 12 innings of that contest. The Twins then arrived in Oakland after 3 a.m. PT, so Gardenhire felt that this was the right time to provide Mauer a rest.

"I'm not too worried about his swing," Gardenhire said. "He's still got the great swing. He's a great hitter. He's just had a little long bat the last few days, a few long swings. So he'll get a refresher."

Mauer was asked before taking part in the Home Run Derby if he was concerned about the event affecting his swing. But for those who might point to the event as the cause of Mauer's latest skid, his slowdown at the plate has been going on longer than that.

Since June 23 -- the last time that he entered the day batting over .400 (he was hitting .407) -- Mauer is batting .256 with three extra-base hits. Two of those have come this month, and both were in the same contest, July 8 vs. the Yankees, when he doubled and homered in a loss.

So is there something else that can be attributed to Mauer's production diminishing over that time?

During the All-Star festivities, Mauer talked about being plagued by a cold off and on for the past month. It was actually during the club's last trip to Oakland -- in early June -- that the catcher first started feeling the effects of the cold.

"It's hung on with him quite a while," Gardenhire said. "That's one of the issues that's a little harder for him. You're catching, you get a cold and it stays with you and you can't kick it. It's non-stop in baseball during the summer, so it's not like you can take a break."

Mauer has certainly seen his share of playing time since returning from the disabled list on May 1, and he's battled through various things over that time, as well. But perhaps the best explanation is just that the catcher -- who caught the attention of the country with his early flirtation with the .400 mark -- is merely human.

Or maybe not.

"Yeah, I still wouldn't go that far," Gardenhire said.

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