Q&A with Joe Mauer: 'Everybody here knows how hard I work at this'
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Joe Mauer won't say he's 100% healthy. He won't say that his timing is in midseason form. He has lost a little weight, too.
But Mauer was adamant on Thursday afternoon he feels "a lot better than what I felt starting the season" in early April, when his body broke down in the first two weeks of what so far, for him, has been a lost season.
As expected, the Minnesota Twins activated Mauer from the 60-day disabled list after Thursday's 1-0 win over the Chicago White Sox, and the All-Star catcher is expected to be in the starting lineup on Friday night.
Saying he wants to avoid being a distraction to his teammates, Mauer and Twins general manager Bill Smith spoke with Twin Cities reporters for about 19 minutes after Thursday's game. And Smith reiterated the Twins' original diagnosis -- bilateral leg weakness -- was the crux of Mauer's issue.
"This has been a very, very tough couple of months for Joe and this organization," Smith said. "He was put on the DL with bilateral leg weakness, which has prompted a lot of comments and questions. In its simplest form, it means he had weakness in both legs. The majority of that was due to the knee surgery he had in December.
"If you look and take the extremes much further to bilateral leg weakness, there's a lot of challenging results that can happen. We've never believed this was anything more than a leg weakness, mostly caused by that knee surgery.
"I think when Joe started to go through that, it starts to affect throwing mechanics, swing mechanics -- it starts to affect a lot of things. So, we started the season after two weeks, it was pretty evident to everybody that Joe wasn't the Joe Mauer we've come to expect over the last few years, and we made the decision to shut him down and basically restart the training and conditioning program, get him down to Fort Myers as soon as we could, and he's had a great few weeks down there."
The following is a partial transcript featuring the highlights from Mauer's time with reporters.
"I think that's the most important thing about what we're doing today, is that I don't want to be a distraction to my teammates, to this team. We just kind of got on a roll here, I think it's 11 out of 13. I think that's what we should be focusing on, winning ball games. Me coming back, I want to be a part of that. Today, obviously I'll try to best describe everything that's gone on, everything I've gone through. It's just getting back to me playing baseball. That's what I want. I think that's what everybody else wants. That's what I do best. I can tell you that I was so excited to walk into the clubhouse today to see the guys, see my teammates, after a win especially. The clubhouse is a lot more fun after a win. To be there and to shake hands, there's a lot of hugs and things like that. A lot of excitement. I can't tell you how excited I am to put the uniform on (Friday) night and get back to what I do best, and that's play baseball."
Are you 100% healthy?
"I mean, 100 percent -- I don't think anybody's 100 percent right now in Major League Baseball. I'm feeling great. I'm making a lot of progress. Am I going to come up here and catch the last whatever how many games we have? No. But I can kind of get back to playing and catch back-to-back days, and that's what I need to do."
Have you lost weight?
"Yeah, it's hot down there. Especially in the middle of the day. I've been working really hard. It's almost like back to my old football days of two-a-days, going to the park early, 8 o'clock start treatment, going through a bunch of different things in the gym and then getting on the field with the other guys. Playing the game, trying to grab some food some time in between then. Obviously, when everybody's going home, I've still got more work to do, go into the pool. I know that's been talked about. I've put in a lot of hours this past month. Now it's the fun stuff. Now it's the easy stuff, getting back to playing. I can't be happier right now."
How close are you to your ideal weight?
"That's an interesting thing. I was getting on Perry (Castellano), our strength coach, about the difference in scales between here and Florida. I said I got off the plane there and I gained five pounds. I don't know how that happened within 12 hours. One of those is off. I think I'm right around where I need to be. I might be a little less, given the heat and losing all the water and stuff. I feel a lot better than what I felt starting the season."
Have the last two months been a mental grind, too?
"Yeah. Definitely. Obviously, I think everybody here knows how hard I work at this, and you're working at it, and you're just taking a lot longer than you'd hoped. I wish I wouldn't have missed any time at all, but there was some things that needed to be addressed, and we feel that we addressed them, and I feel ready to go."
Did you have a feeling that something like this was ahead of you? That it would be this long of a process?
"I didn't know how long. I knew I wasn't right. There was times before I actually went on the DL, I was like, 'am I helping or hurting the team right now?' And that was something that I really struggled with. It got to the point where I just couldn't even get out on the field, and you have to kind of step back and look at what you're doing. And I really wasn't helping the team, one, or myself. I've worked really hard to get back to where I can help this team, and that's my main goal."
What's your attitude to people who say you won't play hurt?
"Well, I think they're just misinformed. I think my reputation over the years has been the opposite of that. And as long as my teammates know, and this organization knows, I'm OK with that."
Are you ready to hit big-league pitching?
"Well, I saw Joe Nathan (for a batting practice session on Wednesday) and that was kind of an eye-opener. He's one of the best in big leagues, and I thought that was really important for me in my coming back, to see something like that. Obviously, timing-wise and hitting-wise, I'm not right where I want to be in mid-season form, but there's other things that you know you just gotta go out and play and get into that shape but more importantly it's can I catch back-to-back or be out on the field and stay on the field for the rest of the year."
Can you catch back-to-back games?
"Well, I think at one point down there, I caught three days in a row. Obviously, you're in a minor-league game. Certain things can happen. I know some days I caught six innings and some days I caught eight. It was kind of more judging how the game was going. A couple of those when I caught six I was catching for about three hours. So as you saw the game today, when Buehrle pitched, it went pretty quick. So judging how the game was going and things like that kind of all turned into that. But I caught three days in a row, and I think the biggest thing is seeing how you feel the next day. It's after you catch one day, everybody's asking, 'How do you feel? How do you feel?' Well, you feel great. It's the next day that can be different, but I was able to do that and take a day off and catch a couple more in a row, and that gave me a different idea where I was at."
Are you too tall to remain a catcher?
"I think every case is different. You look at big catchers over the years, Sandy Alomar had a pretty good career. Carlton Fisk was a big guy. That's the thing: I've kind of been hit with that question ever since I was 20 years old, but I've done pretty well since then. That's what I want to continue to do, just stay on the field and continue catching, and I feel that's the best way I can help this team."
So, you're still a catcher for the long haul ...
"Well, yeah, we said earlier -- what happened this season, I had an offseason surgery and trying to come back from that, it took a little bit longer than we hoped, but I don't see it being a problem in the years to come."
How do you think you'll be received by fans?
"Yeah, obviously, I'm most anxious about getting on the field with my team. But I've been working real hard. I think a lot of different opinions have been thrown out about what's been happening. So, just to the fans, I think most of them how hard I work and how much I want to be out there. Nobody wants to be out there more than I do. I think a lot of that has come out of frustration. I can tell you right now, nobody has been more frustrated than over the last month or last months, I should say. But yeah, I go out there and play hard every day and obviously the support of the fans means a lot to me. I hope I take it back on the field and when we start playing things will get back to where they need to be."
How is your shoulder?
"My shoulder, I mean, that could've been dealing with last year. I think that was written about quite a bit. My shoulder feels a lot better than it did. But that's the thing. I'm back and I'm feeling good but I also have to stay on top of these things. You know, everybody know here I'm the last one to leave and that I have a lot of work to do to stay on the field. And if that's what I have to do to stay on the field to play baseball, you better be right I'm gonna do it."
Did you hear the rumor you have Lyme's disease?
"Yeah, I don't have Lyme disease, I can say that. Everybody's kind of thrown their own opinion on it, and why I've missed time is because, I guess, my knee and weakness in the legs and compensating for my knee. ... Is my knee good to go now? Yeah, I still have to work at it. I have no disease or anything like that so I think that's a good thing to clear that up a little bit."