No. 7 or No. 2, It's All the Same for Joe Mauer

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No. 7 or No. 2, It's All the Same for Joe Mauer
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Success on the baseball diamond has its own timetable.

Witness Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire's occasional on-again, off-again experiment batting Joe Mauer in the two-hole.

The recent move has kick-started the Twins' offense, enabling them to halt a six-game slide that had many of the players questioning their choice of profession.

The Twins produced a 20-1 victory Thursday against the Chicago White Sox. Mauer, hitting second in the batting order for the first time this season, contributed a pair of doubles and a grand slam for six RBI.

He also scored three runs as the Twins pounded the White Sox for 20 hits, including homers by Michael Cuddyer, Joe Crede, and Matt Tolbert.

Minnesota terrorized Milwaukee with a 12-hit attack en route to an 11-3 victory Friday night. Mauer went hitless, snapping a 14-game streak, but he scored twice and knocked in two more runs.

Gardenhire told MLB.com that he wasn't sure how long he would employ the new batting order, fully realizing that it's not the ideal situation to have arguably the best pure hitter in the game stuck in the two-hole rather than his customary No. 3 spot.

"But I got to find somebody to get more consistent batting in front of (middle of the order] and getting on base. Right now, I don't have anybody swinging good enough to do that," Gardenhire said. 

Alexi Casilla manned the spot to begin the season. When he was sent down to Triple-A Rochester, Brendan Harris took over the role and he, too, has failed to deliver the goods expected of a hitter in the two-hole.

Credit Gardenhire for having the bravado to tweak the lineup.

Yet, before we anoint him as a genius, Gardenhire has used the ploy several times in the past...with less than sparkling results.

Before Thursday, Mauer had hit in the two-hole in 33 games since 2004. The Twins only won 14 of those games and scored just 120 runs (3.6 runs per game).

Gardenhire's most sustained use of this gambit came in 2007. The Twins were 29-30 when Gardenhire plugged Mauer into the two-spot on June 8. Over the course of the next 12 games, the Twins managed to play .500 ball.

Mauer, overall, has struggled with this assignment, garnering just 28 hits in 126 at-bats (.222) with a single homer and 14 RBI, a far cry from the numbers he produces in the No. 3 slot.

But that was then and this is now.

Since his return May 1, Mauer is hitting .416 with eight homers in 74 at-bats. He's driven in 26 runs in 20 games.

These numbers suggest that Mauer is transforming himself from a high-average hitter with gap power into an ultimate slugger in the mold of Albert Pujols and Manny Ramirez.

If Mauer's new persona proves to be a chimera, Mauer is still one of  those rare hitters who's going to send shock waves through the opposition's pitching staff no matter where he hits.

"He's one of the best in the game at getting on base and knocking the ball and having good at-bats," Morneau told the Associated Press.

"The Mauer Effect" is spreading throughout a substantial portion of the Twins' lineup in 2009.

Since Mauer's return to the Twins' lineup on May 1, Morneau is hitting .333 with five homers and 20 RBI.

Cuddyer, who hit for the cycle on Friday, is setting an even brisker pace, at .354 with six homers and 25 RBI. Jason Kubel, who missed Friday's game due to knee swelling, is hitting at a .375 clip with a homer and seven RBI.

All of this, however, hasn't translated immediately into more wins. The Twins are just 9-12 in May.

This is due primarily to a startling rotation and erratic bullpen, rather than a lack of offense. Before Thursday's and Friday's outburst, the Twins were averaging 5.3 runs per game in May.

With starters Nick Blackburn and Kevin slowly rounding into form, the Twins seem poised for a turnaround.

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