The good news is that Joe is back. The bad news is that he is clearly rusty and is not yet batting the way we know he can. I think we expected some degree of rust, especially considering Mauer never played in any AA or AAA games on the rehab assignment. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little disappointed that he didn't come out of the gates with what appears to be any level of intensity. After the long absence, and the generally poor play of the team (last 3 weeks excluded), we need some intensity.
But what I want to briefly discuss is the amount of catching we can expect Mauer to do between now and the All-Star break. Joe and Gardy both made clear that Joe wasn't coming back until he was ready to be the full-time catcher for the Twins. True to his word, it sure took a long time for Mauer to return. Counting today's game against the Giants, there are 17 games left before the break. 6 of those 17 are day games (although 1 of the day games is followed by a day off). It has been a rule for Mauer, and is a general rule for many catchers, not to catch a day game after a night game. The reasons are manifold.
I'm not really one to rag on Mauer. It's great to have him back. Even 50 percent of Mauer is better than Drew Butera or Rene Rivera. It is a little disappointing, however, to think that, in this stretch of 17 games that very well may dictate whether the Twins are buyers or sellers, or whether they have a chance at the AL Central this year, Joe Mauer will only be catching in 11, or at most 12, of the games. Sure, I guess it's possible he can DH, but earlier this season Gardy declared that DHing Mauer is "not really a day off, because he gets more hits than most people and he runs around the bases. It's about his legs, and giving him a day off is to keep him off the field." I take that to mean that we shouldn't expect to see #7 DHing very often.
I certainly understand Gardy's point, and the predicament the Twins are in with respect to Joe's health and needing to give him rest. I also understand that the Twins have to play really, really well for the next few weeks in order to position themselves to make a run in the second half of 2011. But I also understand that Joe Mauer has, in the past, been a pretty integral piece on successful Twins teams. I hope Mauer shakes the rust off, plays well in those 11 or 12 games, and his healthy enough to surprise us by catching an additional game or DHing when possible. For once this year, I'd like Joe to pleasantly surprise us.