Joe Mauer begins work at first base: 'I've never been opposed to it'
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The experiment has begun for Joe Mauer.
As expected, the Minnesota Twins' All-Star catcher took ground balls at first base during early batting practice before Monday's series opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Manager Ron Gardenhire watched from a few feet away, giving numerous pointers as Mauer fielded dozens of balls from first base coach Jerry White about 4 hours before game time.
"I've never been opposed to it," Mauer told reporters shortly after. "I think that's where everybody gets mixed up, (thinking) that I've been stubborn and I just want to catch and that's it. And that's not the case."
But Mauer hasn't played any first base since 2002 and had to borrow a mitt on Monday from teammate Michael Cuddyer, who has filled in all over the diamond during the Twins' injury-plagued season.
"I know everybody's beating me up (over) the first baseman's mitt," Mauer said. "It's not a position change. I'm a catcher. That's what I'm signed to do and things like that. But given the situation, the circumstances, I can play over there for a couple days here or there and that'll be a good thing, but I wouldn't take it much more than that."
Mauer was back in the lineup on Monday as his usual position and batting third. Luke Hughes was set to start at first base and bat eighth.
With Justin Morneau out six weeks following neck surgery and Mauer still working towards catching several games in a row, Gardenhire said over the weekend the Twins wanted to get Mauer ready for spot duty at first base once they returned from a six-game road trip.
I think plenty of people have done it, let's put it that way," Gardenhire said about the transition. "Take a few groundballs, relays and things like that. More than anything else you put a person over there that hasn't played, you don't want them to be Superman or anything. You just want them to make the plays they're supposed to make and get the outs they're supposed to get, and not try to get too deep into it. But he's a good enough athlete that I think he can handle it no problem."
Asked how much time he'd need to feel comfortable playing first base, Mauer said, "Oh, I don't know. I guess the more, the better. But obviously, different situations call for different things. You've got guys like Morneau going down and things like that. I've always told Gardy if he needs me out there, I'll give it my best, and hopefully, I can get a few more days like this (practicing) before it comes to that."
Mauer also took a series of swings during early BP. In nine games (seven starts) since he returned from a more than two-month stint on the disabled list, Mauer is 5-for-31 (.161) with one double, one walk, two RBIs and two runs scored.
"I think I'm starting to feel a little bit better physically, which is allowing me to do some of these things," Mauer said. "I'm still not exactly where I want to be, but I want to get out there. I haven't been feeling very good at the plate, but you've got to get out there and you've got to swing and you've got to work at it. So, that's what I'm doing out here."
Designated hitter Jim Thome also was in Monday's lineup, batting fifth, for the first time since he came off of the disabled list.