03/15/09 6:30 PM ET
Mauer's back injury has Twins in limbo
Club waiting on results from catcher's most recent examination
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
Speaking through a team spokesman, Minnesota general manager Bill Smith said Sunday that he's received no update from the doctors on Mauer.Mauer was scheduled to return to Fort Myers, Fla., on Saturday night after seeing a specialist in Baltimore for a second opinion on his lower back. But there has been no indication as to when the Twins will get an update on the results of the exam. Mauer was diagnosed with inflammation in the right sacroiliac joint -- where the base of the spine meets the top of the pelvis -- by team doctors following a magnetic resonance arthrogram this week. He's been unable to take part in any team workouts so far this spring due to pain in his lower back, which he first began experiencing late last season. An MRI on Mauer's back over the offseason revealed a kidney obstruction, and he underwent surgery to eliminate the problem on Dec. 22. The hope was that it would help relieve the back pain, but that has not been the case. The Twins' season opener is April 6 against the Mariners, and while the club has yet to declare that Mauer will miss the start of the regular season, his availability is clearly in doubt. "The more days go by, it looks like we are going to have to ad-lib at the beginning," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said Sunday. "But we are waiting on the latest news on Joe to see where we're at." Gardenhire has already said this spring that if Mauer is not ready to open the season, he doesn't expect backup catcher Mike Redmond to be able to catch five or six times a week. Instead, the Twins will likely look to one of their catching prospects to split duties with Redmond, who turns 38 in May. "He'll probably do two or three times a week, if that's the case," Gardenhire said of Redmond. "You just have to be careful with him. ... He's our backup guy, and he's going to want to catch every day. But we know we can't force that issue with him. One of these young men that we're looking at right now will probably have to step up and do some damage." Minnesota has three strong catching prospects in camp in Jose Morales, Drew Butera and Wilson Ramos. Morales, 26, is the only one of the three with Major League experience -- albeit limited to one game in September 2007, when he went 3-for-3 before injuring his ankle sliding into second base. Morales spent last season at Triple-A Rochester and is still working his way back from that injury and needs to show the club he's ready defensively.
Butera, 25, is considered to be the best defensive catcher of the group. He played at Double-A New Britain last season.Ramos, 21, has been turning the most heads this spring, but he spent last season at Class A Fort Myers. The Twins believe he has some developing to do before he's ready for the Major League level. There is the possibility that Minnesota could keep three catchers out of camp, if Mauer isn't ready to go. Gardenhire said Sunday that's an unlikely scenario, but one he's considered. "It's something that I have definitely thought about and looked at," Gardenhire said. "Whether that's going to happen or not -- I'm still waiting on Joe." The Twins have been considering possibilities internally should Mauer's ailing back force him to miss a few weeks at the start of the season. But they've been waiting to talk much publicly about possible plans until they're more certain of Mauer's status. Smith was asked Saturday if he was getting nervous about Mauer's situation. "Long-term? No." Smith said. "No one has given me any reason to be, and I hope they never do."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.