Notebook: Mauer homers in Florida; Gardenhire hopes Valencia heats up
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MINNEAPOLIS -- For anyone concerned about Joe Mauer's 3-for-13 stint with Single-A Fort Myers this week, the catcher mashed a three-run, opposite-field home run in his first plate appearance Friday night, and his return to the Minnesota Twins could be imminent.
Mauer sat behind the plate for a third straight night Friday in his Fort Myers rehab stint, and manager Ron Gardenhire said the catcher is feeling "better than he has in a long time," also adding, "He doesn't have that beat-up feeling after playing a couple days in a row."
Gardenhire, who spoke with Mauer on the phone prior to Friday's minor league game, added that the catcher's arm "feels good, and his body feels good after catching two days.
"It wasn't nine innings (Thursday), but one game was 140 pitches, which you get in the minor leagues. Last night they had 18 walks between the two teams and three-hour plus game that he was involved in."
Sidelined since April 12 with leg weakness, shoulder soreness and other general soreness, Mauer has been working out in Florida since the middle of May. Gardenhire said Thursday that he'd prefer if Mauer logged a few more innings behind the plate before returning to the major leagues -- perhaps with Triple-A Rochester -- but a return on this current homestand remains a possibility.
"We'll let him catch (Friday) and Sunday and we'll see where we're at from there," Gardenhire said.
Gardenhire waits for Valencia to heat up
Call it a sophomore slump, perhaps, but whatever the classification, Twins third baseman Danny Valencia has not produced at nearly the same level offensively in 2011 as he did in 2010.
Hitting just .223/.284/.339 on the season -- and .200/.235/.262 since May 22 -- Valencia was given two "breather" days in Cleveland by Gardenhire to help clear his head. In two games since, Valencia has three hits in eight at-bats, including a double, but he also has four strikeouts.
Valencia does rank second on the team with five home runs and 27 RBIs, but the RBI spike is likely a result of having more opportunities -- Valencia is hitting just .222 with runners in scoring position.
This, of course, just one year after Valencia finished third in AL Rookie of the Year voting by hitting .311/.351/.448 with seven home runs and 18 doubles in only 322 plate appearances.
"He's got a lot of movement going on and they are trying to slow that down," Gardenhire said. "When Danny is swinging good he's driving the ball up the middle and the other way, staying on pitches. Right now, it looks like he's trying to hit every ball into the seats.
"We have to get him back to using the middle of the field and shooting the ball the other way. A lot of guys have started to do that and have had a lot of success. Danny needs to the same thing. He's been working very hard at. Now he just has to carry it over to the game."
With players dropping left and right around him, Valencia has been one of Gardenhire's most durable players, playing nearly every game since the middle of last season. But because of his struggles at the plate, the second-year third baseman isn't necessarily immune to a demotion when Mauer, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Jason Kubel and Jim Thome return from injuries.
"When everybody starts coming back we're sure going to see -- see how Danny does," Gardenhire said in an interview with 1500 ESPN on Friday. "See if he can get his bat going and move his feet down there a little better. We know it's in there. We saw him hit last year. He's working on it, I know that. He comes out early and gets early work on the field. But we need to see some results.
"Delmon (Young) showed a little life (Thursday) night. Same thing with him. We need to see some results. These guys need to start carrying the load a bit better. Luke Hughes is playing better. That's definitely an option. If that's what makes us the best team then that's what we'll do."
Morneau sits to rest ailing wrist
Suffering from a pinched nerve in his neck and wrist soreness for much of the season, Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau has resisted landing on the disabled list to this point.
But on Friday, he informed Gardenhire that he needed a rest day, so Hughes started at first base with Delmon Young taking over DH duties.
"I talk to him every day," Gardenhire said of Morneau, "and it's something they tell me he can play through, and has been playing through it. And I told him when you need a day you tell me."
A recent MRI showed some fluid build-up, but no structural damage. To keep Morneau as fresh as possible, Gardenhire has penciled him in as designated hitter five times in the last seven games.
Head athletic trainer Rick McWane said a cortisone shot is "a possibility," for Morneau.
"We would talk to our doctors about it, and they would make that decision."
After an 0-for-4 performance on Thursday night, Morneau is hitting .225/.281/.338 in 231 plate appearances.