It's happening. The Twins are finally easing up on their stringent "Catcher Only" rule with Joe Mauer, a reversal which -- while basically necessitated by circumstances -- strikes me as significant.
Although he's returned to the lineup after missing two months due to leg weakness, Mauer still seems to be dragging along. He continues to hit the ball into the ground about 70 percent of the time, he's bickering with pitchers, and his struggles in the No. 3 spot epitomize the lineup's ineptitude.
Moreover, despite the club's insistence that they view Mauer as their starting catcher, he's increasingly becoming a part-time player in that role. Since returning from the disabled list, he's started only six of the team's nine games behind the plate, and yesterday wasn't able to crack the lineup due to the lack of a DH in an NL park.
If his usage pattern thus far is any indication, Mauer may not be capable of catching more than two out of every three games, and that presents a problem if the Twins want to keep him in the lineup alongside Jim Thome on a regular basis.
The obvious solution, of course, is to hand Mauer a first baseman's mitt and start giving him sporadic starts there while Justin Morneau recovers from neck surgery. Realizing this, the Twins have begun working Mauer out at first, which may be leading toward his first appearance at a position other than catcher as a major-leaguer. Ron Gardenhire told reporters that Mauer would have been in the lineup yesterday if he could play first.
I have gone on record as saying I think a position switch for Mauer is an inevitability at this point, and that the Twins would be wise to start facilitating that transition as soon as possible. Could this be the first step?