Where to bat Mauer? Molitor has options

Twins first baseman set to make spring debut Wednesday

Where to bat Mauer? Molitor has options

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Twins first baseman Joe Mauer remains set to make his Grapefruit League debut on Wednesday against the Pirates, but manager Paul Molitor is debating where Mauer will bat in the lineup this year.

Mauer, who turns 34 on April 19, started off strong last year, but faded late with a lingering quad injury that plagued him the last two months of the season. The six-time All-Star and former American League Most Valuable Player hit .261/.363/.389 with 11 homers, 22 doubles and 49 RBIs in 134 games. He did that while starting 66 games batting third, 54 games batting second and eight games batting first.

"I'm having discussions with people to get input from staff," Molitor said. "There's just kind of a trickle-down there of where people could go. I still like Joe up there somewhere, against right-handed pitching in particular, so we'll see how it fits together."

As Molitor alluded to, much of it could depend on where Byron Buxton bats in the lineup, as he's a prototypical leadoff hitter, but could be eased into the ninth spot like last year until he's ready to take over atop the lineup. Otherwise, Brian Dozier figures to be the leadoff hitter with Jorge Polanco also expected to get a look as possibly the No. 2 hitter.

Molitor said he receives lineup suggestions from director of baseball research Jack Goin, but he's always had the freedom to draft his own lineups.

"I've talked to Joe a little bit about kind of waiting to see how things unfold here," Molitor said. "I've never been asked to do something. But their information is available as I request, as I do from time to time. You're just kind of curious when you're assembling lineups day to day. You kind of know what you feel and you kind of do your homework on it, but sometimes maybe the people who run numbers would see it a little bit differently."

One issue with Mauer last year was his struggles against lefties, batting .224/.291/.319 against southpaws, compared to .272/.383/.410 against right-handers. Molitor plans to sit Mauer against tough lefties as a result, and his spot in the order could fluctuate by who is on the mound. Mauer would bat early in the lineup against righties, but further down against the lefties that he plays against.

"I'm aware of that," Molitor said of Mauer's numbers versus lefties. "But if we're trying to keep him a little fresher, those are probably the days I would look at, but not all of them. So we'll see how it unfolds."

Even with his late-season slide, Mauer's .363 on-base percentage was the second-best mark on the team behind Robbie Grossman's .386 clip. There has been push in the past about him leading off and he did do it 10 times last year, so Molitor said it's an option, but it didn't sound like one he was seriously considering. Mauer hit .156 with a homer and four walks in eight games as leadoff hitter last year.

"We did it last year," Molitor said. "I can't tell you if it was good, bad or indifferent, it was kind of a small sample size. It's crossed my mind at different times."

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. 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.