The Minnesota Twins are playing it safe with All-Star catcher Joe Mauer after having seen up close the damage concussions can do to a player.
The Twins shut Mauer down for the rest of the season on Monday, saying it wasn't worth the risk to try to get him back on the field with the team far out of contention and Mauer still experiencing some symptoms of a concussion he sustained on Aug. 19.
The Twins have seven games left in what has been another miserable season for them, and Mauer's injury only adds to the disappointment. He was hurt when he took a foul ball off his mask against the New York Mets and hasn't played since. Mauer said he has seen big improvement over the last week, but there are still some lingering symptoms, including sensitivity to light, that tell him it's not worth risking a setback by trying to get back for the final seven games of the season.
"It's frustrating that I'm not on the field and not able to play the game that I love," Mauer said after a workout at Target Field. "But I have to take care of this and make sure that I'm healthy and ready to go next year."
One of Mauer's close friends, Justin Morneau, saw a series of concussions derail his All-Star career a few years ago. Former centre fielder Denard Span also struggled with them at one point, so the Twins have become particularly informed on treating players with the brain injury. The last thing they want is for Mauer, the face of the franchise who will make $23 million a year for the next five seasons, to experience similar difficulties.
General manager Terry Ryan said Mauer hasn't experienced any setbacks and that the organization was just being extra cautious with its franchise player.
"As we all know, those things are very touchy and sensitive," Ryan said. "We've gone through this with Justin once before. I just don't want any setbacks and neither does he and neither does our medical staff."
Mauer said he's spoken with Morneau, who was traded to the Pittsburgh a few weeks ago. But he's also quick to point out that he believes he's on the right track to a full recovery and plans on being ready for spring training in February.
"He's checking in on me and seeing how I'm doing," Mauer said. "I just want to make sure everybody knows I've had some good days in a row and I shouldn't have any problems lingering. I'm just going to try to keep getting better."
Mauer was still struggling with considerable symptoms on the team's previous homestand. But he said he has made significant progress in the last week while the team was away on a West Coast road trip. He went through another workout before the Twins opened a series against the Detroit Tigers on Monday, but rather than have the issue hanging over the final seven games of the season, the Twins decided to bring some finality to the situation.
The injury has reintroduced talk about moving Mauer from catcher to first base to reduce the wear and tear on his body. Over the past two years, the Twins have tried to keep Mauer's bat in the lineup as much as possible by having him play more at first base and as the designated hitter. Mauer hit .324 this season, which was good for third in the AL when the day began.
Mauer is determined to remain behind the plate and Ryan said he anticipated that Mauer would continue to catch next season, but it's an issue that will be discussed this winter.
"I have every intention of coming back and catching. That's what I do," Mauer said. "But right now I have to take care of the situation so I can. I look forward to getting back out on the field next year as a catcher and whatever else they need me to do."