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Thoughts: Mauer to the DL

April 15, 2011

After the Twins 4-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, Ron Gardenhire announced that Twins catcher Joe Mauer would be heading to the DL with bilateral leg weakness.  The Twins are off to a 4-8 start and not hitting the ball well, they now have lost their 2 and 3 hitters in the lineup.  Second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka is still expected to be out for another month.  The Twins are able to plug either Hughes, Tolbert or Cuddyer to fill in for Nishioka but there is no replacement for Mauer. 

Steve Holm was called up from AAA late last night to serve as Drew Butera’s backup.  You have to wonder what Gardenhire will do with his line up now.  Will he continue to use Michael Cuddyer in the 2 spot?  With Delmon’s early struggles can you put him in the cleanup spot?  There will be a lot of questions and we will have to see how it all plays out.  Fact of the matter is this is a huge blow to the Twins.  I know it’s still early and they generally are a second half team that surges to the finish line but the Central is much better this year and they can’t afford to fall back too far early.

When Mauer was hitting weak grounders that didn’t make it out of the infield to start the season, I started to wonder if his knee was truly healed.  When I saw last night he was not in the line up for a second straight day, I really began to wonder that.  It turns out his knee is fine, but he has not built up the needed leg strength after off-season knee surgery.  Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said the weakness in Mauer’s legs “is causing all kind of soreness in his hips, and he’s compensating because of the surgery he had this winter and he’s starting to get sore in other places. So we are just going to shut him down.”

I can’t fault the Twins for doing this.  This is the first year in Mauer’s 8 year-$184 million contract.  The Twins need to be carefull with their investment and that is exactly what they are doing.  I guess it is better to lose him for 2-3 weeks now than have him injure himself in a month and be gone for a large chunk of the season.  Sending Mauer to the DL now is not what frustrates me, it’s the lack of options to fill in for him that does.  The Twins traded top prospect Wilson Ramos to the Nationals for closer Matt Capps at the trade deadline last year.  Even thought Capps did solidify an area of need for the Twins last year, they could really use Ramos right now.  Currently for the Nationals, Ramos is hitting .455 with a .545 SLG% and a 1.084 OPS.

The Twins could go out and sign a catcher to fill until Mauer is back but they will most likely put Butera there for the next couple of weeks.  I think it will be somewhat interesting to see how the rest of the pitching staff performs with him behind the plate.  Butera is a smart catcher and very gifted defensively, but is a below average hitter and not a starter.  I know it’s only 15 days that Mauer will be gone, but this is going to be a rough two weeks.  The next two weeks will test the character of this Twins team very early in the season.  Lets all hope they are up to the challenge.

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