Mauer declares himself healthy, rarin' to go

Mauer declares himself healthy, rarin' to go

Mauer declares himself healthy, rarin' to go
MINNEAPOLIS -- After dealing with a range of injuries and illnesses that plagued him during the 2011 season, Joe Mauer said Saturday that his offseason has been going to plan and that he's fully healthy.

Mauer, looking like he's back at his normal playing weight, started baseball activities recently -- he's throwing and hitting off a tee -- and hasn't been bothered by his left knee. He had arthroscopic surgery on that knee last offseason, and tried to come back too quickly, which led to his well-documented case of bilateral leg weakness that forced him to miss 58 games early in the season.

"The knee's been feeling great," Mauer said during a TwinsFest appearance. "The last year and a half, just trying to compensate for that kind of took a toll on my whole body. I don't think it's going to be an issue. I'm feeling good, so I'm excited. This is the best I've felt in a long time. I'm excited about that."

Mauer was just six weeks removed from knee surgery this time last year, and said there's a drastic difference between the way he felt then and how he feels now.

"This point last year, for me it's been night and day physically for how I feel," Mauer said. "I really was just kind of doing rehab stuff with the knee. I don't think I grabbed a bat until, I don't even know, later. I feel good. I'm excited to get out there on the field and move around. Things are a lot better for me physically than they were last year."

Mauer, 28, was limited to 82 games last season, as he missed time with bilateral leg weakness, neck stiffness, a viral infection and an upper respiratory infection that turned into a bout with pneumonia that ended his season on Sept. 14.

Mauer fully recovered from pneumonia in November, and has been working out in Florida under the guidance of Twins strength coach Perry Castellano. He's incorporated a few new workouts into his routine, and also has been doing pool workouts at the club's Spring Training facility in Fort Myers.

He said he started swinging the bat and throwing about a week and a half ago, and that he should be ready to go once pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 18. He said he's looking forward to seeing live pitching once again once camp opens, but that he's not quite at that point yet.

"That's what we're working toward," Mauer said. "I haven't been in that situation yet, but just swinging off the tee, I'm feeling a lot better. Just the work I've been doing to this point, I'm feeling a lot better."

Mauer only started 42 games behind the plate last year and would certainly like to increase that number, but wouldn't get into specifics about how many games he'd like to catch. He caught 112 games in 2010 and 109 games in 2009, when he was named the American League's Most Valuable Player.

"I've never really been a guy to put a number on things, especially like average or home runs or things like that," Mauer said. "I just want to get out there and play. Games played is important to me and one positive I can take out of last year is that I can go over to first base and feel a little more comfortable about that idea. If it keeps my bat in the lineup and helps the team out, that will be good."

Mauer, who played 18 games at first base last year, said he's open to seeing time there again this season because it helps give him a breather from the rigors of catching. But he said he plans on being the club's primary catcher with occasional spells at first base and designated hitter.

He also expressed optimism about the health of first baseman Justin Morneau and center fielder Denard Span, saying he was fired up to hear how they've been doing this offseason.

"Absolutely, especially after the year we had last year injury-wise," Mauer said. "We had a lot of guys not out on the field, so to see those guys smiling and saying that they're healthy is definitely a good thing."

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