If there's one thing that's true about Joe Mauer, other than the fact that he's an incredible hitter and one of the best players that's ever come through the Minnesota Twins organization, it's that he embodies pretty much every stereotype about people from Minnesota. He's a nice guy, unassuming, doesn't want to offend anyone, and he also feels a sense of duty. He doesn't want to disappoint his parents, the team, his teammates, or Twins fans.
As a result, after signing a massive contract, playing an entire year without his legs under him, and then having rumors about him moving out from behind the plate it was only to be expected that he would feel like he had something to prove. The batting average and the on-base percentage will always be there. What he felt he needed to prove was that he's still able to play the position for which he was awarded that massive contract.
So far this season he's started all nine games: seven as the team's backstop and two as the designated hitter, one of which was in last night's series finale against the Royals in Kansas City. This is the second year in a row he's started the first nine games of the season, and his third such year in his career. Here's how his first nine games have played out, excluding his 2004 rookie season where he only played in two games before getting sent to the disabled list.
|Year||Game 1||Game 2||Game 3||Game 4||Game 5||Game 6||Game 7||Game 8||Game 9|
Many of these years will have their own caveats. In 2011, Mauer only played in one additional game before hitting the disabled list. In 2009, this is a list of the team's first nine games after Mauer's return and not their first nine games overall.
Clearly the goal in the last couple of years has been to keep Mauer's bat in the lineup as often as possible, and as a result he posted career highs in games played and plate appearances in 2012. Obviously taking him out from behind the plate hurts his value, and I think this is something that Joe understands. Mauer knows he isn't being paid just to be one of the game's best hitters. He's being paid to be one of the game's best hitters while also being his team's primary catcher.
So of course he wants to catch more games.
It's too early to tell if how he's being used or how he's telling Gardy to use him is going to make a difference to the number of games he catches in 2013. He started 135 games behind the plate in 2008 and appeared in four more as replacement, and those 139 games as a catcher are a career high. While I'm sure he'd love to match those numbers, if he catches 120 games and starts 145 or 150 games overall I'd have to count that as a success.
This is something we'll keep an eye on as the season goes along. Mauer's health is the number one concern, so having him in the lineup in any capacity has to be the ultimate goal. But I'm sure that everyone involved - from Mauer to Gardenhire to the front office - would love to see him catch a full compliment of games this season.
Can he start 120 games behind the plate? Absolutely he can. Let's see what happens.