Mauer capturing old magic early in season

Twins first baseman off to hot start after two subpar seasons

Mauer capturing old magic early in season

MINNEAPOLIS -- Is Joe Mauer back?

That's the question the Twins organization and its fans are undoubtedly wondering after his hot start this season. Mauer, coming off two subpar years after suffering his season-ending concussion in 2013, looks like his old self early this season, hitting .340/.452/.480 with a homer, two doubles and a triple in 14 games entering Wednesday's game against the Brewers.

More important, advanced statistics show Mauer is a different hitter from the last two seasons, as he's struck out in 6.5 percent of his plate appearances, while walking 16.1 percent of the time. It's a major improvement from the last two years; he struck out 18.5 percent of the time in '14 and 16.8 percent of the time in '15. He walked 11.6 percent of the time in '14, and 10.1 percent in '15.

"The big difference right now, and it's way too early to put this into a pattern, but he's putting the ball in play," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "He's not striking out. When you look at that stat page, he's walking more than he's striking out. He's off to a good start."

Mauer's contact rate is also through the roof, as he's making contact 93.1 percent of the time, which is the third-highest rate in the league, per Fangraphs.com. And it's not weak contact either, his line-drive rate of 31.9 percent is a career-best and a major jump from last season's 24.1 percent.

"We all see that," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "It's been from Day 1, giving us at-bats that give him a chance to get hits, drive in people, get on base, I'm sure that everyone would be extremely happy if we could somehow bottle this thing up that's he's got going on and try to carry it over for six months."

Mauer downplayed his hot start, considering the sample size, but it's evident he's seeing the ball much better than the last two seasons. He's also experimented with wearing sunglasses at the plate during day games after suffering vision issues stemming from the concussion.

"I've been feeling pretty good," Mauer said. "It's still early in the season. But it's been going good so far so I'm going to try to hold on to that."

Mauer's hot start also hasn't been powered by any luck on balls hit into play, as he's hitting .348 when he puts the ball hit in play, which is roughly in line with his career rate of .344. His line-drive rate will likely drop as the season goes along, but the other numbers such as his strikeout percentage and walk percentage are statistics that stabilize fairly quickly, which is an encouraging sign for the one-time MVP and six-time All-Star.

"He's got to feel good about how he's playing, how he's swinging, how he's seeing the ball, how his body's responding," Molitor said. "All things that we hope that he can continue with."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.