MINNEAPOLIS — Simply put, Joe Mauer is in the zone.
The Twins catcher is in the type of zone where you expect him to get a hit every time he comes to the plate — and when he doesn’t, you’re surprised. It’s not a new phenomenon for Mauer to go through a hot streak like this, but it’s certainly an encouraging start to the season for the three-time batting champion, who turns 30 on Friday.
Mauer went 4-for-5 in Tuesday’s 8-6 win against the Angels, his second straight 4-hit game. He’s now batting .386 on the year and seems as locked in as he has in quite some time.
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“I’ve seen him hit his whole career. We’ve seen him do this,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Mauer. “We keep saying it’s incredible — and it is at this level to swing and get those hits like he does when he can just rack ‘em up. It is incredible. That will never change. He’s just an amazing hitter.”
Monday and Tuesday’s back-to-back four-hit games marked the second time in Mauer’s career in which he had four hits in consecutive games. He also did so on June 26 and 27 in 2006 when he had a total of nine hits in two straight games against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Tuesday at Target Field was just another ho-hum day at the plate for the former MVP.
“It was a good day,” Mauer said. “I’m seeing the ball pretty well. Like I said (Monday) night, I’m just trying to hold onto that feeling.”
Perhaps just as noteworthy as Mauer’s four hits Tuesday is the fact that three of them came with two strikes in the count. It’s a continuation of a rather impressive trend so far for the Twins catcher, who now has 22 hits — 16 of which have come with two strikes.
On Monday, Gardenhire lauded Mauer’s ability to hit with two strikes. He doesn’t panic when he gets behind in the count and instead seems to thrive when the pitcher is ahead. Mauer is now 16-for-39 (.410) when batting with two strikes this season.
“I’m just trying to have a plan. You go up there and you try to execute it,” Mauer said. “A pitch might look good on TV, but it’s not really something I want to offer at. Getting a couple strikes on you to be able to come through with a hit is huge.”
Mauer’s first hit Tuesday was a single to center off Angels starter Jason Vargas. By the time the second inning was over, Mauer was already 2-for-2 at the plate and drove in a pair of runs with his two-out single in the second to give the Twins a 3-0 lead.
Mauer improved to 3-for-3 on the day with a single in the fourth off Vargas. Mauer’s only out of the night was possibly the hardest ball he hit in the game, as he scorched a sinking liner to left field that was caught by Angels left fielder Mike Trout before it hit the ground.
Two innings later, though, Mauer dropped a single to left field for his fourth hit of the game and his eighth in the past two days.
“It felt good. I was just looking for something out over the plate,” Mauer said of the lineout. “I think I was ahead in the count and got it and put a good swing on it. It was one of those where you want to get it up in the air or you want it to fall in front of him. It was a good swing. I think the baseball gods the next at bat, I hit it off the handle a little bit and it fell in, so I guess they evened it out tonight.”
Minnesota’s offense has scored eight runs in each of the past two games, and Mauer has been a big reason why. He drove in three runs and scored twice in the series opener Monday and drove in another three runs Tuesday.
After an injury-plagued 2011 season limited Mauer to 82 games, he bounced back to bat .319 and play in a career-high 147 games in 2012. Through Tuesday’s win, Mauer has played in all 13 games for Minnesota and has once again proven to be the Twins’ best hitter.
“Especially right now, when he gets hot, nobody can really stop him,” said Twins second baseman Brian Dozier, who batted leadoff ahead of Mauer on Tuesday. “He’s obviously a joy to hit in front of — or behind, whatever it is. But he does some pretty neat things with the bat.”