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Joe Mauer's absence felt in series split

Joe Mauer's absence felt in series split
A time zone away, the key to the Twins' offense -- perhaps their season -- jogs in a swimming tank, stretches in the trainers' room, catches in the bullpen. If there is any conclusion to be drawn from the Twins' first series of the 2009 season, it might be this: They really need Joe Mauer.

The Twins knew all along that starting pitching would be their biggest strength, and a four-game split with the Seattle Mariners , which concluded with a feeble 2-0 Metrodome matinee loss Thursday, confirmed it. But pitching isn't always enough.

"We feel like we should have won that series," Justin Morneau said, and with Glen Perkins allowing just one run over eight innings Thursday, he's right. On the other hand, the Twins had to rally to win the two games they did, including a down-to-the-final-out miracle comeback Tuesday.

The confident run-scorers of Fort Myers are finding big innings harder to come by now that pitchers are in regular-season form, particularly with Mauer still in Florida. The Twins scored 13 runs in their first four games, or roughly two-thirds of their average production of a year ago, and just one of them in their two losses.

All four of the Twins' starters pitched well enough to win this week, but only Kevin Slowey owns a 1-0 record. Here's a big reason: Minnesota's batting average is .219, 12th in the American League, and its on-base percentage is .281, also 12th. And while the Twins of course have an entire season to play, they sorely could use the on-base machine that normally bats third in their lineup.

"We definitely need him back," said Mike Redmond, who received a standing ovation for playing despite being clearly hobbled by a strained groin. Redmond went 1 for 2 with a walk and would have had a second hit if he were able to do more than jog to first, so he's doing a decent job, even hurt, of filling in.

Still, "Joe's a big part of our lineup," Redmond said. Their chief get-on-for-the-RBI-guys part of the lineup, actually.

Mauer batted .362 in the Metrodome last year, so his absence is impossible to cover.

"We normally play pretty well here. People don't like coming in here," Morneau said. His division-title formula is win every series in the Metrodome and play .500 on the road. Meaning, "We've got to win games like these," he said.

That would take getting to a guy like Jarrod Washburn, who never faced a significant threat in eight quick innings Thursday. Yeah, the Danbury, Wis., native is 6-1 all time in the Dome, but the Twins didn't even put a runner on second base until the eighth inning, collecting just five scattered singles.

"He gave us a few pitches to hit," Morneau said, "and we popped a lot of them up."

Perkins did something similar to the Mariners but made just one mistake. And that wasn't a big one.

With two outs in the first inning and Franklin Gutierrez on second base, Perkins left a changeup over the plate to Adrian Beltre, who grounded it up the middle for a run-scoring single.

"It kind of stings a little bit," Perkins said. "I'm disappointed I let him beat me because he's the one guy in the lineup I thought, 'Don't let this guy get you.' "

He pitched around Beltre after that, walking him twice, but otherwise got stronger and more effective as the game went on. Perkins pitched eight efficient innings, needing only 106 pitches, and didn't allow the final 15 batters he faced to get a hit.

"The main thing is, if I do that every time out, we're going to win way more than we lose," Perkins said.

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: April 10, 2009

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