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The Sports Xchange, Published September 10 2013

Twins' Mauer may return this season

These are strange days for Twins catcher Joe Mauer. He suffered a concussion that still has him out of the lineup, and his best friend on the team is gone. The clubhouse is a different place for Mauer, but he plans on returning yet this season to play ball for the Twins.

The sometimes-reticent Mauer spoke for the first time recently regarding the loss of his friend and teammate Morneau. They have played together for a decade and have become very close -- to the point where Mauer thought they would play their whole careers together.

"That was the hope," Mauer told the Star Tribune. "One thing why we became such good friends is that we had the same goals, especially professionally. We might have been a little different when we first met. But he's the guy who works hard, plays the game the right way, always wants to get better."

Morneau was traded for Alex Presley on Aug. 31 and now he is in a pennant race with the Pittsburgh Pirates -- and Mauer is happy for him. But it may be tougher for Mauer to be left behind looking toward the empty locker next to him that used to house his comrade in arms.

"At first when I heard about it, there was a lot of frustration and things like that, on a personal level," Mauer said. "Probably a little selfish for me. I enjoyed Justin as a teammate for 10 years, and I've known him for 12. We go back a long way, but the more and more I think about it, it is a good move for him professionally.

"He's meant a lot to this team over the years and is a big reason for our success. And just not our team, in the community, too. He's going to be missed on a whole lot of levels."

It might be easier for Mauer to accept the change if he was back out on the field playing baseball with his other teammates, but instead he is fighting the lonely battle of returning from injury. Mauer has been out of the lineup since Aug. 19 with a concussion and is working his way back. He took batting practice with the team at Target Field on Friday, and is getting closer to a return.

Following that batting practice, Twins general manager Terry Ryan said he was becoming more comfortable with the possibility that Mauer will return before the end of the regular season.

"I don't think there's any doubt that will happen," Ryan said. "He hasn't had any setbacks. He's making progress every day."

The next question is where Mauer will play when he returns. In addition to Mauer, the Twins have three more catchers on the roster: Ryan Doumit, Chris Herrmann and Josmil Pinto. Doumit and Herrmann can play other positions. But Ryan tried to put to rest just where Mauer would play upon his return.

"I'm going to tell you what he has said," Ryan said. "He wants to catch. If it comes to that, where he is good to go and he wants to catch, we will catch him."

Mauer was told by his doctors that he can catch when he returns, but he told the Star Tribune that he is still dealing with symptoms and will not be cleared to play until they are gone. He said there is no exact timetable for a return, but he is improving. And as to the question of him shutting it down for the season, Mauer quickly put it to rest.

"I am not programmed that way," he told 1500ESPN. "I want to get out there as soon as I can. I love playing this game; hopefully I can out there soon. Just trying to get out there on the field right now. I know we don't have a lot of games left, I just want to get out on the field and help the team anyway I can."

On Saturday, Mauer took batting practice with his team and ran the bases before the Blue Jays game. That was a step forward from solo BP.

"At least he's out there getting acclimated," Ryan said. "He's getting a little better every day."

Ryan said Mauer's return is more a matter of days than weeks, so time will tell. But throughout the three-game series with the Blue Jays at Target Field, Mauer has been seen watching the games from the Twins dugout. Strange days, indeed.

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MLB Team Report - Minnesota Twins - NOTES, QUOTES

RECORD: 62-80

STREAK: Won one

PAST 10 GAMES: 5-5

NEXT: Athletics (Jarrod Parker, 11-6, 3.57) vs. Twins (Liam Hendriks, 1-2, 5.28)

PLAYER NOTES:

--RHP Liam Hendriks couldn't build off his previous outing, as he struggled against the Astros on Wednesday, but he wasn't helped by his defense either. The right-hander surrendered five runs (three earned) on eight hits and two walks over 4 1/3 innings. Hendriks doesn't have much of a track record against the A's, and what he has is not great. He is 0-1 with a 7.20 ERA and has struck out two A's in five innings pitched against them.

--LHP Pedro Hernandez allowed three runs on eight hits and one walk while striking out three in 4.2 innings. It was the shortest of his last three starts. He has allowed three-runs-or-less in each of his last five starts, however only one of those have been quality outings.

--LHP Glen Perkins recorded his 33rd save of the season. It was his 51st career save tying him with Bill Campbell for ninth on the Twins' all-time list. On Sept. 3, two appearances ago, Perkins gave up three runs in one inning. He has pitched well since that game.

--C Josmil Pinto (3-for-4) collected a hit in his sixth straight start, including three doubles. He has a hit in each of his starts since having his contract selected Aug. 31. The only game he failed to get a hit was in a pinch-hit appearance Sunday. In the seven games he has played, he is hitting .565 (13-for-23) with four RBIs.

--3B Trevor Plouffe (2-for-4) tied the game with a two-RBI single in the fifth inning. It was his 10th multi-RBI game of the season. He has seven RBIs over his last seven games, since Sept. 2 at Houston. He has at least one hit in 18 of his last 21 games since Aug. 18. Over the 21 games, he is hitting .329 (27-for-82) with eight doubles, two home runs and eight RBIs. Plouffe has 102 hits on the season, a career high, passing the 99 he had last season. He is one of five Twins with 100 hits this season.

--SS Pedro Florimon (2-for-3) has a hit in three straight games, and he registered multiple hits for the 22nd time this season. The three-game hitting streak is the longest since a five-game streak July 10-19. He stole his 14th base of the season, a mark that leads all Twins.

--RF Wilkin Ramirez was transferred to the 60-day disabled list Monday. He suffered a fractured left tibia and went on the 15-day disabled list Aug. 30.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We all know we've lost a few ball games in a row here at home. To get a win ... the people that showed up here were cheering pretty hard. Our guys were playing pretty hard, too. Big win." -- Manager Ron Gardenhire, of the Twins' 6-3 win over the Angels Monday.

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MLB Team Report - Minnesota Twins - ROSTER REPORT

MEDICAL WATCH:

--SS Doug Bernier (sore right elbow) did not play Sept. 4-8. He came in as a pinch runner on Sept. 9.

--RF Wilkin Ramirez (fractured left tibia) went on the 15-day disabled list Aug. 30. He was transferred to the 60-day disabled list Sept. 9.

--RHP Samuel Deduno (sore right shoulder) went on the 15-day disabled list Aug. 30. He was transferred to the 60-day disabled list Sept. 9 and it's possible he'll have the joint scoped. --C Joe Mauer (concussion) went on the seven-day disabled list Aug. 20 and was transferred to the 15-day DL on Sept. 4. He ran the bases on Sept. 7 in his continued rehab. He won't be activated until he passes tests administered by Major League Baseball.