Mauer's power outage a multifaceted issue
AL MVP adjusting to new ballpark and defensive shifts
MINNEAPOLIS -- The problem with delivering a season like Joe Mauer did in 2009, when he batted .365 with a career-high 28 home runs while leading the Majors in average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, is that expectations are raised.So much so that as the Twins catcher entered Friday batting .300 with only three home runs through his first 69 games of this season, there are many questions being asked about what might be wrong with the reigning American League MVP. According to his manager Ron Gardenhire, the answer is nothing. "He's on the ball as well as anybody on this team, hitting line drives and rockets everywhere," Gardenhire said recently. "The home runs will come. Just like we said a few years ago, we don't worry about Joe Mauer. There are a lot of other people you worry about, not Joe." When Mauer returned from a back injury that kept him out for all of April last season, he got off to a very hot start. It's the kind of start that certainly would seem difficult to replicate, and that's been the case so far this year for Mauer. Through his first 69 games of the '09 season, Mauer was batting .362 with 15 home runs, 49 RBIs and a .592 slugging percentage. This season, he's batting .300 with three homers, 34 RBIs and a .431 slugging percentage. For most hitters a .300 average would certainly be considered far from a disappointment. But for the three-time AL batting champion, who signed an eight-year, $184 million contract extension with the Twins during Spring Training, those types of results aren't what he expects of himself -- even if it's perhaps unfair to compare everything to his standout '09 season. "I really haven't felt good," Mauer said as he got ready by his locker before the Twins' contest against the Rays on Thursday afternoon. "Everybody wants to compare to what happened last year and stuff like that. Obviously, I think I'm my worst critic and harder on myself than anybody can be out there. "I've had moments where I've felt good here and haven't had anything to show for it. But I'm really not going to change what I do. I've been doing pretty well so far [in my career], and I'm just trying to get back to the feeling that I've had and trying to sustain that for a longer time." So what has been the reason that Mauer's numbers so far this season have gone down so drastically? Mauer's lack of power so far this season seems to be the most glaring difference from a year ago, as witnessed by his decrease in slugging percentage. Perhaps a reason for that is the change in Mauer's home ballpark. With the Twins' move into Target Field, all of the club's players have needed to adapt to the new dimensions and particularly the fact that the ball isn't traveling as well to the gaps like it did at the Metrodome. Hitting home runs at Target Field hasn't been easy, particularly for the Twins. The majority of the balls that have traveled out have been hit down the lines, which does not bode well for the Twins, who have primarily been a gap-to-gap hitting team in the past. And perhaps that's most true for Mauer, who has hit all three of his homers on the road. "He's still getting used to the ballpark," Twins hitting coach Joe Vavra said of Mauer. "The Metrodome was very comfortable for him. He trusted the backdrop and all that stuff. He needs to learn to trust the new ballpark and what he can do with it. It's going to take a little while, maybe a little longer than he thought, to figure it out." Vavra and Mauer's teammates agreed that Mauer has perhaps been affected more than any Twins hitter by the balls not carrying out at home. But it's the lack of hits into the gaps, not homers, for Mauer that they feel could be wearing on the catcher.
|"The Metrodome was very comfortable for him. He trusted the backdrop and all that stuff. He needs to learn to trust the new ballpark and what he can do with it."|
|-- Twins hitting coach Joe Vavra, on Joe Mauer|
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.