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Updated: June 12th, 2011 12:03pm
Notebook: No Rochester trip for Mauer; which backup catcher will stay?

Notebook: No Rochester trip for Mauer; which backup catcher will stay?

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire confirmed Sunday what had became mostly apparent on Saturday -- that catcher Joe Mauer will not head to Triple-A Rochester to continue his rehab, instead staying in Florida.

"He's going to stay in Florida," Gardenhire said. "He's going to continue to do his thing in Florida. It's a good situation for him there. He's got all the things he needs down there, kind of similar to here. And for Joe, rather than being on the road, that's very important. It's a good situation."

Mauer caught three consecutive games Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, hitting a three-run homer in the latter. He will catch again Sunday and Monday for the Miracle, and possibly Tuesday, before facing right-hander Joe Nathan in a live batting practice session Wednesday.

Facing Nathan -- who is rehabbing his tender elbow -- would give Mauer a chance to see major league pitching without traveling halfway across the country.

"He got some fastballs the other day, which he can count on one hand how many fastballs he's seen the whole time he's been playing down there (in Florida), Gardenhire said. "And that's kind of one of those things why you'd want to send him to Triple-A, you might see a few fastballs up there. Some veteran guys that know how to mix it up a little better. Those kids (in Single-A) are just going to be winging breaking balls all over the place. ...

"But it's a good situation for him right down there. We're really happy with the way it's going."

After facing Nathan on Wednesday, the possibility remains open that Mauer could rejoin the Twins on Thursday or Friday. But Gardenhire would speculate that far ahead.

"There's a possibility it's going to be Thursday on Thursday," Gardenhire said with a wry grin.

Fair enough.

Which backup catcher goes?

When Mauer returns, the Twins must decide which back-up catcher to send to Rochester -- Rene Rivera or Drew Butera.

And it's likely to be a very difficult decision.

"Oh, absolutely," Gardenhire said. "You want tough decisions though. I don't like it when it's carved out, 'this is going to happen.' You want tough decisions. That means both of them are doing OK, and when Joe (Mauer) comes back, sure, we're going to have to make a tough decision. And both of them have done their parts and they continue to. But it's not going to be easy no matter which way we go."

Competing with Wilson Ramos during spring training in 2010, Butera landed a spot on the 25-man roster out of camp and hasn't been demoted since. He hit just .197/.237/.296 last season and has fared even worse at the plate this year, batting .174/.207/.261. And that includes a recent hot stretch.

But Butera has handled himself extremely well behind the plate over the last two seasons, throwing out 42% of base stealers, working well with pitchers and becoming Carl Pavano's regular catcher.

Of course, the same can be said about Rivera's defensive abilities.

"I like Rene," Gardenhire said. "I think he's handled himself. (Saturday) you saw him do a really good job with (Scott) Baker, moving the ball in and out, and I like how he goes and if he sees something he doesn't like he runs out (to the mound) real quick and they talk about it, rather than, 'oh well, OK, let's do it that way.' They go and talk about it.

"That's important for a catcher to control, and be in control and having a plan of what he wants to do. He's done a real good job of that. And he and Liriano have worked really well together too."

Rivera has also been more successful at the plate, hitting .208/.276/.321 in 58 plate appearances with a much better minor league offensive track record than Butera.

The Liriano angle could be key.

It's an incredibly small sample size, but Liriano has allowed only three earned runs in 18 innings (1.50 ERA) with Rivera behind the plate, with 20 strikeouts to only eight walks.

With Butera, Liriano has allowed 20 earned runs in 26 1/3 innings (6.84) with 13 strikeouts and 19 walks.

Again, a small sample size. And it's difficult to divvy up how much responsibility goes to Liriano or the catcher. But an interesting trend to watch, nonetheless.

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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