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Updated: May 8th, 2010 11:19pm
Pelissero: Give Drew Butera credit for keeping his head up

Pelissero: Give Drew Butera credit for keeping his head up

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by Tom Pelissero

MINNEAPOLIS -- Joe Mauer likely will be back in the Minnesota Twins' lineup on Sunday.

Wilson Ramos could be a future star, one place or another.

That other catcher, Drew Butera?

Who knows where the soft-spoken, 26-year-old rookie's career will take him. So, when he has a moment like he did on Saturday night, it deserves recognition.

Butera was in the on-deck circle when Mauer, the reigning American League MVP and three-time batting champion, strolled to the plate for the first time in eight days as the Target Field crowd of 38,863 came to their feet and roared.

"I was nervous for him," Butera said. "That's all I can say. I wasn't even hitting and that ovation made me nervous for him."

Pinch hitting for Alexi Casilla, Mauer went down swinging on consecutive high fastballs -- the second out in the eighth inning, with the bases full and the Twins uncomfortably ahead 4-1.

The crowd hushed, Mauer headed back to the bench and up strolled Butera, whose lone hit in 16 career at-bats had his batting average registering .063 on the video board.

"It's a big mental thing for me," said Butera, a defensive specialist whose five-year average in the minors was .214.

"It's something I'm still learning to overcome, and when you get the opportunity to play, you have to make the best of it. You have to go up there with a plan and stick with it, and if it works, it works."

Butera fouled off one 92-mph fastball from Baltimore reliever Matt Albers, then ripped another through the left side of the infield, scoring Michael Cuddyer and Delmon Young to extend the Twins' lead to five in a game they won 6-1.

"It's a feel-good situation to see him come up with a big hit," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He gets a little disappointed in himself that he's not helping the team offensively. But what he did defensively (Saturday night), calling that ballgame, is what he's here for, and then that's a bonus, to come up and get a big hit for him."

It also was a big hit for the Twins, whose struggles with the bases loaded -- they're now 8-for-50 (.160) this season -- have become almost a running joke in Gardenhire's media sessions.

And it's impossible to overstate what the hit meant to Butera, who has been working his 205-pound tail off behind the scenes.

He's on programs with both hitting coach Joe Vavra and the strength coaches, doing extra cardio and body-weight work -- pushups, pull-ups, etc. -- to get his blood flowing and make it feel as though he's caught three or four innings even when Mauer or Ramos is getting most of the actual work behind the plate.

"He knows what his role is," Gardenhire said. "He's game-on."

It took Butera 30 games -- of which he's played in only five -- to get his first major-league RBIs.

Who knows how long it'll be until he gets his next one, especially with Mauer expected to DH on Sunday and perhaps return to catching later in the week.

Once that happens, the Twins probably will send Ramos down to Class-AAA Rochester to let him keep getting at-bats. But if Butera gets sent instead, he swears it won't phase him -- and he'll have Saturday's triumph to look back on as evidence he belongs in the big leagues.

"You know what? Whatever happens, happens," Butera said. "If they decide to keep Wilson, that's fine. I'll still go about my business wherever they send me, and if they keep me, I'm still going to work hard."

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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