In Praise of Joe Mauer


I know it was just one game, but during a season in which bright spots have been hard to find, I want to recognize not only Mauer’s offense last night, but his defense as well, which was spectacular considering it was his Major League debut at 1st base. Mauer has gotten a little beat up around Twins Territory lately so it’s a nice change of pace to be able to write about him in a positive light.

Things got rolling right away in the first inning for the Twins last night as Ben Revere hit a single, stole 2nd and advanced to 3rd on a fly-out by Alexi Casilla. Mauer came up and ripped a single right back up the middle and Revere walked in with the Twins first run of the game. In the bottom of the 1st inning, Mauer was thrown right into the fire defensively. Juan Pierre hit a lead-off single and then Vizquel hit an absolute bullet to 1st that Mauer caught and then stepped on 1st to double-off a frozen Pierre. An unassisted double-play – not bad for your first play at a new position. Adam Dunn then grounded out to first to end the inning. I live in Chicago so I have the pleasure to sit there and listen to Ken “Hawk” Harrelson when the Twins are in town and though I grow old of his schtick quickly, I love listening to him talk about Joe Mauer. I swear, at least 2-3 times/game when the Twins play the Sox he will say something about how beautiful a baseball player (or athlete) Joe is. It’s hilarious. The Twins may not be in the heads of the White Sox players, but they are certainly in the head of the play-by-play guy.

Anyway, I could go on and give you a blow-by-blow of Mauer’s game, but chances are you watched it and saw it for yourself. As far as I could see, he only made one mental error in the game, running to his right on a Vizquel ground-ball to 2nd, but he quickly realized the mistake and changed course to cover first. It didn’t cost the Twins anything as Konerko grounded-out to Valencia to end the inning. The point is, Mauer looked comfortable at 1st base and while it might not be his first choice position-wise, he proved he can competently play the position which gives Gardenhire a lot more options as far as his lineup goes.

Equally encouraging as Mauer’s defense at 1st last night was his night at the dish. In the first he hit a liner up the middle to drive in a run. In the 4th he hit a liner to right-field and took an extra base on an error by Paul Konerko. In the 9th he hit a seeing-eye single through the hole into left field. It’s a very limited sample-size, but so far in July Mauer has a .333/.407/.333 hitting line in 24 at-bats. Even if his power doesn’t come around, he can still be a dangerous hitter with timely singles, doubles and walks.

Another guy showing signs of improvement is Tsuyoshi Nishioka. After his first 3-hit game in the Majors on Wednesday, he followed it up with a 2-hit game last night, driving in a run, stealing a base and making a couple of nice plays at shortstop. His .333/.417/.381 line so far in July is a marked improvement over his .483 June OPS. He also hasn’t committed an error at SS so far this month after committing 4 errors in 13 June games. He’s looking more comfortable overall which is a good sign for the home town team.

I like what I’m seeing offensively from the Twins of late, their attack seems much more consistent and none of the hitters seem to be trying to do too much. They’ve been looking very “piranha-like” which is a formula that has worked for this team in the past. I look for Nick Blackburn to get back on track tonight after a couple of rough starts in his past two outings. With Baker out for a bit, the Twins are going to need one of their other starters to step up and I think Blackburn is the guy. Go Twins.