By Matt Snyder
In yet another positive step of the rehab program that has seemingly dragged on forever, Twins catcher Joe Mauer will catch a few innings in an extended spring training game Thursday (Twins PR via Twitter). Mauer's been used only as a designated hitter since he started taking part in extended spring games several days ago. It's important to make a distinction between these games and a minor-league rehab assignment. Extended spring training is where young players are still taking part in controlled scrimmage-type games and veterans are sent to rehab injuries before beginning official rehab stints -- which are limited to 30 days.
The news boils down to this: It's a good sign that Mauer's body is ready for him to catch in a game-like setting, but it's still not an indication that he's close to returning.
In fact, Mauer's injury was initially said to be leg weakness and then reportedly was exacerbated by a viral infection. Later he had trouble strengthening the rest of his body and had back issues. Now the Twins are saying there's a shoulder issue. For whatever it's worth, Will Carroll at SI.com -- an injury expert -- said in a column Wednesday that "this does not reflect well on the Twins. Mauer should have been back by now given the information we had."
The Twins and Mauer certainly aren't in any rush, but considering this appears to be a lost season, they might as well take every precaution that he doesn't come back too soon and risk further injury.
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