Leg weakness puts Joe Mauer on disabled list

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Back in spring training, when Joe Mauer was missing Grapefruit League games to rehab his left knee, the catcher often said he wasn't worried about his bat. Instead, he was worried his legs wouldn't be ready for the grind o...

Joe Mauer
Former Minnesota Twins catcher Terry Steinbach, left, talks with Twins catcher Joe Mauer during spring training baseball practice at Hammond Stadium complex in Fort Myers, Fla., Sunday, Feb. 20, 2011. (AP File Photo/Dave Martin)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Back in spring training, when Joe Mauer was missing Grapefruit League games to rehab his left knee, the catcher often said he wasn't worried about his bat. Instead, he was worried his legs wouldn't be ready for the grind of the season.

Not even two weeks after Opening Day, Mauer's worry has become his reality.

The Twins placed Mauer on the disabled list because of bilateral leg weakness following a 4-3, 10-inning loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday night and called up Steve Holm from Class AAA Rochester to replace him on the 25-man roster.

Mauer was scheduled to see his Baltimore-based doctor next Tuesday -- the same doctor he used in 2009 when dealing with an inflamed sacroiliac joint

that cost him the first month of the season and all of spring training -- but the Twins moved that appointment up to today. Even so, Mauer was still at Tropicana Field an hour after Thursday's game, stuck in the trainers' room after coming down with the flu during the ballgame.


According to general manager Bill Smith, bilateral leg weakness basically means Mauer's legs are too weak to withstand the rigors of catching on a daily basis, and because of that weakness, Mauer was compensating in other ways. That, in turn, has led to a sore shoulder and a sore elbow.

"He's got to build up his strength again to catch the long haul," Smith said. "And rather than try to push it through one game on, one game off -- rather than push

it through now, let's shut him down, build that strength back up and get him ready for the long haul of the season."

Smith couldn't say how long Mauer has been dealing with this heightened soreness, but manager Ron Gardenhire said he became concerned when Mauer said he was too sore to play Wednesday's day game against Kansas City. Gardenhire had planned to play Mauer on Tuesday and Wednesday, then have Drew Butera catch Carl Pavano on Thursday. When Mauer couldn't play Wednesday, Gardenhire wanted to play him Thursday, but the catcher was still too sore and ultimately was not available even off the bench Thursday night.

After Mauer sees his doctor today, he'll return to the Twin Cities and begin a leg-strengthening program. Asked if Mauer is expected to return when his 15-day stay on the DL is up, Smith said: "We'll see. I'm not overly concerned about that."

Mauer played in nine of the Twins' first 12 games of the season, starting at catcher each time and batting .235 with a .289 on-base percentage, three walks and six strikeouts in 34 at-bats. It seems logical to deduce that his legs were never ready for the season, that his shortened spring training of only 20 at-bats didn't afford him enough time to strengthen his legs adequately.

"He is where he is now," Smith said of the catcher, who had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in December. "You can speculate whatever."

The Twins have lost eight of their first 12 games this season, they've lost their brand new second baseman to a broken leg and they've lost their all-star catcher, one who's making $23 million in the first year of an eight year contract signed before the 2010 season began, to leg weakness.


But Pavano said the team needs to focus on who is playing, not who isn't. He also said Mauer is doing the right thing by going on the DL, saying the catcher needs to "look out for himself right now" and "forget about the contract and forget about all the things that come along with that contract and worry about Joe Mauer."

"I want to see Joe Mauer get healthy and be himself," Pavano continued. "I don't want to see him have to scuffle and have to save face just because he feels like he's got to be out there."

Pavano said Mauer approached him to talk about the stresses of playing with such a big contract and being injured at the same time, something Pavano knows a great deal about. The right-hander was on the DL for almost the entirety of the four-year, $40 million deal he signed with the Yankees before the 2005 season.

Pavano believes his injuries were prolonged and exacerbated by his attempts for too long to play through them, and that's something he doesn't want to see happen to Mauer.

"You want to go out and play. (Big contracts) put extra pressure on you to go out and do things that sometimes you aren't capable of doing," Pavano said. "The fans need to understand that we're human. We have injuries. We have bad days, we have good days, and there are certain things that no matter how much you're getting paid that you can't get through without either taking time to get it right or finding the right person to help you get it right. He needs to do that."

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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