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Updated: July 6th, 2011 10:41am
Joe Mauer likely to play 1B on Thursday in Chicago

Joe Mauer likely to play 1B on Thursday in Chicago

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The time has arrived.

Manager Ron Gardenhire said Wednesday that Joe Mauer will "definitely play first base (Thursday) night, pretty sure about that" when the Minnesota Twins begin a four-game series against the Chicago White Sox.

With right-hander Carl Pavano on the mound against right-hander right-hander Philip Humber, the timing was right to use Drew Butera -- Pavano's regular catcher -- behind the plate and Jim Thome at DH, with Mauer taking a shot at first base.

Mauer has been taking groundballs at first base during batting practice nearly every day during the Twins' current nine-game homestand.

He played 14 games at first base during his minor-league career, but none since 2003.

"He's fine, I mean, we haven't seen him in a game, we won't really know until we get him over there and see," Gardenhire said. "He is honestly pretty fluid over there to tell you the truth. He's got soft hands and he moves around really well. All the fundamental parts of it will be a learning experience for him."

On Saturday, Mauer said the biggest challenge was simply getting used to taking groundballs again.

"I haven't taken groundballs in 10 years or played first base in 10 years," he said. "So it's not something you just do overnight or something. 'Hey, I've got a good idea, let's go play center, or left.' Being a catcher and playing catcher your whole life, and training to be a big league catcher your whole life, it's not that easy just to say, 'Oh, I'm going to go play shortstop tomorrow.' It's different."

Of course, part of shifting Mauer to first base every once in a while is to keep his bat in the lineup on a daily basis. But due to being "a little beat-up," according to Gardenhire, Mauer did not start Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Rays.

"Understandable," Gardenhire said. "I saw his swing (Tuesday) night. He looked a little sore (Tuesday) night I thought, and that's going to be expected. He's played pretty much every day, one place or another."

The manager added that Mauer's off day was "just typical ... I think he took one foul tip off the shoulder bone, right off the tip, and basically blocking balls in the dirt. He's just been playing, he's been swinging every day he's taking ground balls at first base, he's throwing so he's been getting after it pretty good. And catchers do get days off in the big leagues so he should probably get one off too."

Since coming off the disabled list on June 17, Mauer is hitting .220/.281/.271 with three extra-base hits in 64 plate appearances. He has started 15 of 17 games, but has appeared in all 17.

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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