NEW YORK -- As Joe Mauer goes, so does the Twins' offense it seems.
So with Mauer in a recent slump, the offense has been scuffling, especially over the last 10 days.
Mauer entered Sunday hitting just .205 with no walks over his last nine games, including an 0-for-4 performance with two strikeouts and a double play in Saturday's 3-1 loss to the Yankees. The Twins have averaged just 2.33 runs per game over that span, going 2-7. But manager Ron Gardenhire insisted he's still not worried about Mauer and is more concerned about the effect his struggles have on the team.
"I feel for us if he's not hitting and struggling a bit," Gardenhire said. "He's just a big part of our offense and our team. I don't worry about Joe. He's a hitter. He's going to come out of it. Everybody has scuffles throughout their career, but with Joe we haven't really seen it."
Mauer finished May hitting .267/.343/.340 for the season, which outside of his injury-marred 2011 season, is the worst start to his career through the first two months of the season. Outside of '11, when he only played in nine games through May 31, Mauer's career-low batting average through the first two months of the season was .296 in 49 games in '12. Mauer was hitting .332/.409/.492 in 49 games through May 31 last year in his final season as a catcher.
Much of Mauer's struggles have come since he suffered back spasms that kept him out for nearly a week in early May, but Gardenhire said that Mauer is currently feeling fine. Mauer entered Sunday hitting .224/.259/.289 with three doubles and a triple in 19 games since the injury.
"He's healthy," Gardenhire said. "He feels great. His body feels as good as it ever has. He's hit the ball on the screws and it's just gone right at people. But we need him to swing and get hits."
Gardenhire added that he talked to Mauer about getting a day off as a mental break with his current struggles, but Mauer declined. Mauer has started 49 of the club's 54 games this season, including 41 starts at first base. Gardenhire said there's still a chance he gives Mauer a break but that it's likely to come on the road instead of in front of the home fans at Target Field.
"I talked to him and he said he felt great and didn't need a day off," Gardenhire said. "I'm never afraid to give a guy a day. I think everybody needs it, even if you're playing first base. But I give him those DH days, which I think are good for him, too. But I'm not afraid to do it. I just won't do it at home."
Santana remains out for precautionary reasons
NEW YORK -- Twins manager Ron Gardenhire held Danny Santana out of the lineup for precautionary reasons on Sunday, two days after he suffered a laceration above his left eye that required seven stitches.
Santana sustained the cut while sliding headfirst into third, as his own helmet came off while sliding and caused the cut. Santana was fitted for a new helmet on Saturday, and the swelling around his eye went down on Sunday.
But he still has the stitches above his eye, so Gardenhire opted to start Aaron Hicks in center field over Santana for the second straight day. Gardenhire said Santana could be ready to return on Monday, when the Twins head to Milwaukee to play the Brewers.
"He's available off the bench so to speak, but he still has stitches in his eye," Gardenhire said. "So if we run him out there and it opens back up, we could lose him for another day. So I'd rather give him another day and see what we got once we get to Milwaukee. Let it heal a little bit, because it's in a dangerous place in his eye."
Santana, though, said he did feel much better on Sunday, and said he'd be ready to play, if needed. He took batting practice before the game without any issues and said he has no vision problems.
"I can see OK," Santana said. "I can play. If Gardy needs me, I can hit."
Twins utilizing infield shifts more this season
NEW YORK -- The trend around baseball this season has been more infield shifts, and the Twins and Yankees have been taking advantage of that trend.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has used the shift against hitters such as Brian McCann and Mark Teixeira, while the Yankees have shifted against Oswaldo Arcia.
"It works -- no doubt," Gardenhire said. "There's a lot of parts to it. Hitters think about it. And I think that's part of the goal -- to get in their heads and have them try to shoot it the other way to get them out of their normal thought process. So if you see a guy trying to beat the shift, then you've probably started something pretty good because what they're doing isn't natural."
Gardenhire said the Twins are shifting much more this season and are using spray charts and video to their advantage. He said they alter their shifts based on the situation, and even make subtle adjustments with two strikes or two outs based on the data available on the hitter in those situations.
"All the time," Gardenhire said about how often they shift. "We've never shifted on Teixeira batting left-handed until this year, but he doesn't have a ground ball to the left side of the infield. But once you get guys on base or in scoring position, you make adjustments and it's not as heavy. But there are two-out and two-strike charts that show things a little bit different. So yeah, we've been using it quite a bit."