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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For the first time all spring, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire got to write out a lineup card Wednesday that had Joe Mauer in the No. 3 hole and Justin Morneau in the cleanup spot.
Asked afterward if it felt good to have his Nos. 3 and 4 hitters back, Gardenhire scratched his head and did his best to pretend he couldn't remember which Nos. 3 and 4 hitters people were talking about.
"Oh," he said, finally. "Those two."
Yep. Those two. As in his two former MVPs. Morneau, who is still working his way back from the concussion he suffered last July, was playing in just his third Grapefruit League game of the spring. But for Mauer, who has been out all spring with knee issues, this was his spring debut -- as a designated hitter. And it went exactly the way you'd expect:
On the second pitch he saw all spring, he pounded a single through the middle against the Mets' Mike Pelfrey.
"Walked right up there and hit a bullet up the middle in his first at-bat," Gardenhire ho-hummed after his team's 4-3 victory over the Mets. "That's not a shocker to anybody around here. He's been telling us all spring, 'My swing is fine. I can hit.' So I'm surprised he didn't look in the dugout and give us a 'Na-nanny-boo-boo.'"
That's just how three-time batting champs roll, apparently. But for Mauer, who received three injections of artificial lubricant in his left knee this spring, hitting was never his big concern.
The most important thing, he said, is "just getting your baseball legs underneath you. Everybody goes through it. And our guys [who have been healthy] went through it a couple weeks ago, when the games started. So to get three at-bats and run around a little bit, it was definitely a good day."
The next big step on Mauer's agenda arrives Thursday, when he is scheduled to catch two innings in a minor league game. It will be the first time he's caught in a game all spring. And he only began catching bullpen side sessions a few days ago.
"I'd like to get as many at-bats as I can, but No. 1 is to make sure I get my legs back," Mauer said. "And the best way to do that is to go out and play. I've got to continue to do my leg-strengthening exercises and things like that. But I'll be pretty busy these next couple of weeks."
Asked how much he thinks he needs to catch to get himself ready for Opening Day and the season ahead, Mauer said: "Obviously, I'd like all spring to do it. But it's just going to depend on how I feel. I've been doing it long enough where I'll know when I'm ready."
But Gardenhire said his plan for Mauer over the next two weeks is "catching, catching, catching and more catching. That's going to be the big thing from here on out in spring training -- get his legs in shape [with] bullpens and catching behind the plate. The hitting part of it, Joe does better than most."
Since Mauer won an MVP award in 2009 after missing all of spring training, his absence hasn't exactly been a cause for panic. But Gardenhire said he'd hate for THAT to get out there.
"Please don't tell him that," the manager said, with a laugh, "because then he won't want to play anymore."