Nationals

Mauer looks to catch more in 2013

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Mauer looks to catch more in 2013

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Joe Mauer has always steadfastly believed that his value is highest and his impact greatest when his smooth swing is in the lineup on offense and he's crouching behind the plate on defense.

He somewhat reluctantly backed off his insistence on catching as much as possible last season as the Minnesota Twins urged him to spend more time at first base and designated hitter to reduce the wear and tear on a body that broke down repeatedly in 2011.

The approach was a smashing success. Mauer played in a career-high 147 games and returned to form as one of the best hitters in the American League after a disastrous 2011 season.

Now that he is completely healthy as the Twins prepare for spring training, Mauer fully plans on spending more time at catcher this season.

And GM Terry Ryan thinks it could be a lot more time.

``I've been preparing for the season to be the everyday catcher,'' Mauer said on Friday night as the Twins opened their annual fan festival. ``I can go over to first if they need me to do that. I can DH if they need me to do that, too. The way I've been preparing is catching every day.''

Things couldn't have gone much worse for Mauer in 2011, the first season of an eight-year, $184 million contract extension that kept the hometown star away from the big-market teams. Numerous injuries, including a mysteriously vague ``bi-lateral leg weakness,'' contributed to a career-low .287 average with just three homers in 82 games. The monumental struggles led the once-adoring home crowd to turn on Mauer, occasionally booing him when he stepped to the plate late in the year.

He bounced back in a big way in 2012, hitting .319 and leading the league with a .416 on-base percentage. He also found a balance between catching, designated hitter and first base that kept his legs fresh and his bat in the lineup all season long. He only caught 74 games, was the designated hitter for 42 games and spent the rest of the time at first base, in part because Justin Morneau was still working his way back from concussion problems and several other nagging injuries that had plagued him the previous two seasons.

``I think it worked out real well last year as far as handling Joe and keeping him on the field and plenty of at-bats, all those at-bats we got and not beating him up too much,'' manager Ron Gardenhire said. ``I don't see any reason to change it too awful much from there. Games are going to dictate it and the way we're playing is going to dictate it, and how people are swinging. But the important thing is, Morneau and Mauer both, keep them on the field, keep them in there.''

Morneau is healthy again as well, which would seem to reduce the need for Mauer to play first base. Ryan seems to agree that Mauer is ready to handle a substantial increase in his catching duties.

``We're looking for him to catch somewhere around 120 games,'' Ryan said. ``The other at-bats will come, some at DH and some at first base. But when you start talking about an everyday catcher, when you get him up to 125 games, that's a full load.''

That's quite a big step up for such a valuable piece of the Twins puzzle. Many in the organization thought that the rigors of catching were the biggest reason for Mauer's struggles in 2011. With so much of the team's payroll invested in him for the next six seasons, it's paramount that his left-handed swing is there as much as possible for a team that has lost 191 games over the last two years.

``You have to have his bat in the lineup,'' closer Glen Perkins said. ``Having him out changes everything. If we get a scouting report on the Tigers without Prince Fielder or Miguel Cabrera, it changes things. And to get his bat in the lineup on a daily basis is the most important thing. And I think they did a really good job with that last season.''

Gardenhire said if all goes well and Mauer remains healthy, he doesn't have a problem with putting him at catcher more this season.

``Well, I'll send him out to the bullpen and he can work out there,'' Gardenhire deadpanned. ``I mean, if Joe wants to catch more, he's going to tell me. That's the great thing, we talk. I talk to him every day about, `Hey, this is my plan. This is what I'd like to do.'''

Long one of the Twin Cities' most eligible bachelors, Mauer got married this offseason. The leg and knee problems of two years ago are long behind him, and he's eager to help a team that is used to contending for AL Central titles to recover after two straight last-place finishes. The way he sees it, the best way for him to do that is to get behind the plate and call the game.

``Obviously the last two seasons haven't went according to plan,'' Mauer said. ``We expect a winner out here. Everybody does. Ever since I've been here we've been pretty darn good and we're trying to get back to that level.''

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Follow Jon Krawczynski on Twitter:http://twitter.com/APKrawczynski

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Wild-card tracker: Nationals thankful for Marlins, Cubs slide back

Wild-card tracker: Nationals thankful for Marlins, Cubs slide back

Back before all this mania, Miami, as putrid as its season would be, loomed as a factor.

Handling the Marlins would be key for any contender. It wasn’t a question of winning, but of how much winning would occur against one of the league’s worst teams.

Following Friday’s 6-4 win in a sparsely attended Marlins Park, the Nationals moved to 14-3 against Miami this season. They are 16 games over. 500 for the year. They are plus-11 against Miami alone.

Asdrúbal Cabrera homered again, Trea Turner hit two homers, and Daniel Hudson pitched two innings to earn the save. So, the Nationals, 84-68, hold a one-game lead for the top wild-card spot. Milwaukee won again, joining a long list of teams to beat up on the Pittsburgh Pirates since the post-All-Star-break portion of the schedule began. Pittsburgh may be the league’s worst team, at the moment, and the Brewers host it for two more this weekend.

Trouble is brewing for Chicago. It lost again to St. Louis -- this time a 2-1 mid-day defeat in Wrigley Field. The Cubs have lost four in a row. They are three games behind the Nationals and two behind the Brewers. Their path to 90 wins, which may ultimately be the threshold for postseason entrance, is narrowing.

The Mets won their third consecutive game. They are hanging around, 3 ½ games behind the Brewers with nine remaining on the schedule. Their wild-card elimination number is six.

News for Philadelphia is more dire. The Phillies dropped to 78-74 Friday night following a 5-2 loss in Cleveland. They are now five behind Milwaukee. Their wild-card elimination number is a mere five. 

Which brings us to the more detailed math portion of this program. Here are the postseason chances for each team, according to fivethirtyeight.com:

Nationals, 96 percent

Brewers, 84 percent

Cubs, 15 percent

Mets, 5 percent

Phillies, less than one percent

Coming up Saturday:

St. Louis at Chicago, 2:20 p.m., Hudson (16-7, 3.35 ERA) vs. Quintana (13-8, 4.37)

New York at Cincinnati, 4:10 p.m., Wheeler (11-7, 4.09) vs. DeSclafani (9-9, 3.93)

Washington at Miami, 6:10 p.m., Strasburg (17-6, 3.49) vs. Yamamoto (4-5, 4.87)

Philadelphia at Cleveland, 7:10 p.m., Vargas (6-8, 4.48) vs. Plesac (8-6, 3.64)

Pittsburgh at Milwaukee, 7:10 p.m., Marvel (0-2, 9.00) vs. Davies (10-7, 3.70)

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Beyond the Scoreboard: NLL changes and social responsibility

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USA TODAY Sports

Beyond the Scoreboard: NLL changes and social responsibility

By Rick Horrow

Podcast edited by Tanner Simkins

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE FULL PODCAST

  1. SportsBusiness Journal lauds corporate social responsibility. Amidst a recent roundup of sports CSR initiatives, SportsBusiness Journal noted that the first project on which educational platform developer EverFi collaborated with a sports property was “a financial literacy program that regional bank BBVA offered for use by elementary school students in a handful of NBA markets, including Dallas, Houston, and Phoenix.” When Houston hosted the NBA All-Star Game in 2013, league sponsor BBVA arranged for Rockets star James Harden to appear at a participating school. “While it’s cool to have a BBVA banker come into the classroom, it’s even cooler if James Harden shows up,” said Jon Chapman, co-founder and president of global partnerships for EverFi, which has developed online educational modules on topics ranging from financial literacy to STEM to anti-bullying, branded for presentation by teams, leagues, and sponsors. After Houston, EverFi developed educational modules for the NHL and NHLPA around science, technology, engineering and math; for the NFL and the United Way around character development and African American history; for MLB focusing on learning loss during summer vacation; and with MLS around anti-bullying. We look forward to celebrating a Sport Business Handbook event with EverFi at their Washington, DC headquarters on October 2
  2. The National Lacrosse League announces details for the 2019-2020 season, which include divisional realignment, playoff format and schedule type after the addition of two expansion teams and new market Halifax. The league will feature 13 teams in the upcoming season after fielding 11 last year. To accommodate the addition of expansion teams, the New York Riptide, Rochester Knighthawks, and new market Halifax Thunderbirds, as well as maintaining an eye towards continued expansion, the NLL will shift to a three-division format in 2019-2020. “The league has had unprecedented expansion over the last three years. With two more teams coming in this year along with a new market in Halifax, we felt the need to reexamine conference alignments, schedule and playoff formats to prepare for future expansion. We also wanted to create exciting rivalries for the fans, the best travel scenarios for teams and players and competitive match-ups for our 13 franchises,“ said NLL Commissioner and Sport Business Handbook contributor Nick Sakiewicz. Along with unprecedented expansion, the NLL is clearly looking at unprecedented success.
  3. Cal Ripken, Jr.’s celebrity golf tournament draws in legendary athletes across major U.S. sports leagues. According to the Patriot News, the event, featuring such legends as Julius Erving, Lawrence Taylor, Ozzie Smith, and Jim McMahon, was held to benefit the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation. The inaugural golf outing was held in 2011, and since then, the event has raised several million dollars for the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation. The principal goals of the foundation are to utilize baseball- and softball-themed programs in an effort to build character and teach life lessons to underprivileged children. Founded in 2001, the Foundation has served kids in all 50 states and in other countries such as Canada and Nicaragua. With over 20 Hall of Famers across the NFL and MLB, the event has an impressive amount of star power to help draw attention to giving back to those less privileged through baseball and softball.