Twins' Mauer back after month on DL
It was good practice.
Mauer hit a home run in his first at-bat Friday after coming off the disabled list.
Back at catcher and in the third spot in the lineup after missing the first 22 games to rehabilitate a pesky injury to his lower back, Mauer was as excited as his low-key, laid-back personality would allow.
"It feels good to be home. It's been a long month rehabbing," Mauer said before the Twins took on Kansas City.
He heard a loud cheer when he jogged out to the bullpen a half-hour before first pitch. The ovation was even louder when he stepped into the batter's box in the bottom of the first inning against Royals right-hander Sidney Ponson. It was louder still when Mauer hit a 2-0 pitch into the left-field seats on his first swing of the season.
Mauer has a late start on defending his second batting title, but there's plenty of time left this season to make an impact with that smooth left-handed swing in the middle of the order.
"I always expect a lot. Just whatever I can do," Mauer said. "I felt pretty good down there with the timing and stuff. But more importantly, I felt good catching -- and that's what I wanted to do when I went down there."
The .317 batting average and .399 on-base percentage in 561 career major league games are hard to beat, especially for a catcher, but it's his presence behind the plate that was probably missed the most.
"He's got a calming influence," manager Ron Gardenhire said.
The grind of that position is also what took Mauer so long to fully recover from his inflamed sacroiliac joint after the problem was first apparent to him last September.
The plan, barring a setback, was to give Mauer every third day off for awhile before he's ready for more duty. With Jason Kubel entrenched as the designated hitter, Gardenhire doesn't want to use Mauer in that role much.
"We'll give him all he can handle, and we'll see how he responds," general manager Bill Smith said.
Mauer said before the game he hadn't stopped smiling since he arrived at the stadium.
"It's been a tough offseason, since the last game of last year," he said. "I wasn't feeling very good. It was an offseason of visiting doctors and trying to get on the right path to come back and play the next year. It's been a long road, but I just can't wait to get out there."
Morneau couldn't wait, either. He missed his friend. He also missed Mauer being in front of him in the lineup.
"Hopefully we'll pick him up for a while, and then he'll do what he can do," Morneau said. "He's one of the best in the game at getting on base and knocking the ball and having good at-bats."
Reliever Juan Morillo was sent outright to Triple-A Rochester to make room on the roster. The hard-throwing right-hander struggled with his control, but the Twins want to see him again and were delighted when he cleared waivers. Reliever Jesse Crain, on the disabled list due to a sore shoulder, threw in the bullpen on Friday and felt great -- according to Gardenhire. He'll throw again on Sunday and could come off the DL on Monday or Tuesday.
The Twins kept three catchers for the time being, mostly because backup Mike Redmond was bothered by a sore shoulder and was only available this weekend in an emergency.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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