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Updated: December 2nd, 2011 3:16pm
A 'happy' and 'healthy' Joe Mauer making changes to diet, workouts

A 'happy' and 'healthy' Joe Mauer making changes to diet, workouts

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- It took just six months for Twins catcher Joe Mauer to go from perhaps the most beloved and popular athlete in Minnesota history to the central punchline of a 99-loss team.

For Mauer, 2011 was a season mired in injuries, illnesses, two new defensive positions and questions from fans and media about toughness.

On Friday, while speaking casually in the Twins' clubhouse at Target Field, Mauer said he understands why fans and media see his 2011 season as being somewhat mysterious and he wants to provide more clarity.

"I know the fans are like, 'What's going on with this guy?'" Mauer said.

"Here I am. I'm healthy, I'm happy. I can rule out crazy things I've heard like Lyme disease, Lou Gehrig's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus. I think we've heard it all. I don't have any of those things."

Two team sources have also ruled out depression, which was another popular rumor.

The four-time All-Star was limited to 82 games last season (52 as a catcher, 18 at first base, one in right field and the rest at DH) due to a number of various ailments -- most notable, something the team dubbed bilateral leg weakness that stemmed from offseason knee surgery.

Mauer also missed time with a viral infection, an upper respiratory infection and, eventually, a bout with pneumonia that ended his season in mid-September. He was cleared from the pneumonia by the Mayo Clinic earlier this offseason, and he plans to head back to Fort Myers next week to resume offseason workouts.

"My goal right away (this offseason) was just to figure out what I can do to pick up things to help me get on the field," Mauer said. "Meeting with nutritionists, meeting with different strength coaches just to see, 'Is there something I can do?' Perry Castellano, our strength coach, him and I went to IMG Academies for a week and met with some people there just to see if we can pick up anything we can use, and we did. ...

"(I'm) trying to be proactive with all this stuff, and I feel real confident with what we've gathered and am looking forward to spring training, that it's going to be a good season."

Mauer said he "absolutely" expects this offseason to be different from last year's, because "this time last year I was still trying to test out the knee. And toward the end of that (2010) season, I had missed some games at the end of the season, then got back out there for the postseason and even there I was trying to figure out."

As for the visits to the Mayo Clinic, which tend to raise red flags with the public whether warranted or not, Mauer said, "That was one of the things, I guess, goal No. 1, was to make sure I recovered from pneumonia. I went down there and Mayo Clinic, they're pretty thorough in everything they do, and I got the clearance from them that I can work out, and that's what I've been doing."

Mauer also wanted to make it clear that his illnesses were completely separate issues from the physical problems he dealt with last season.

As the year progressed, Mauer became one of the prime villains, in the minds of many fans, for a 99-loss team. He said he doesn't listen to talk radio or read newspapers often, but he was aware of the criticism.

Mauer was especially criticized for not playing through illnesses or injuries while his teammates continued to falter night in and night out -- criticism that came to a head in September when Mauer missed most of the month with the upper respiratory infection and pneumonia.

"I played for two and a half weeks with it and it turned into pneumonia," Mauer said. "So it's like you try to fight through things and you just couldn't right it.

"I think coming into this year I kind of knew that it was going to be a tough go. Did I imagine what happened? No. When I got to spring training I wasn't where I wanted to be and I had a lot of work to do as far as having knee surgery in December."

Mauer added, "I think what surprised me a lot was a couple things out there questioning my work ethic and that bugged me a little bit, because I think guys who have been around know how hard I work and how much time I put in to what I do," Mauer said. "So that's one thing that frustrated me a little bit."

The Twins signed back-up catcher Ryan Doumit to a one-year, $3 million deal two weeks ago, but Mauer's goal, and the team's goal, remains for the former MVP to catch as many games as possible in 2012.

How many games he catches remains to be seen.

How many games he plays remains to be seen.

But, "I'm here," Mauer said. "I've recovered from pneumonia. I think you might be able to tell I've got my weight back. I've been working out for a couple of weeks, and I'm excited. Everything looks good and I should be ready to go Day 1 of camp. I'm really excited about it."

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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