The Minnesota Twins posted one of the majors’ best records in interleague play last season, thanks in part to AL batting champion Joe Mauer. They hope a long layoff won’t affect Mauer in his 2007 interleague debut.
Mauer, who has missed more than a month with a quadriceps injury, will return to the Minnesota lineup as the Twins open a three-game interleague series against the Washington Nationals at the Metrodome on Friday night.
Mauer, batting a team-high .353, hasn’t played since May 4. The Twins (29-29) are hoping for a quick return to his 2006 form, when he batted .492 (30-for-61) in 15 interleague games to lead Minnesota to a 13-2 record.
Overall, Minnesota was 16-2 in interleague play to tie Boston for the best record in baseball.
Without Mauer sidelined, though, the Twins have gone 14-15 and are returning home after a 2-4 road trip.
They finished the trip with an 8-5 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday, snapping a season high-tying four-game losing streak. Despite that offensive outburst, Minnesota still averaged only 2.8 runs per game while batting .216 as a team on the trip.
“Obviously, you missed his bat in the lineup, the on-base percentage and the catching ability,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire told the team’s official Web site, adding that backup Mike Redmond played well in Mauer’s place.
“But Joe is still one of our leaders, and he breeds confidence. We’ve missed all of that. We’ve hung in there, but it will be nice to have him fit back in our lineup, as he’s a very big piece of the puzzle.”
Even without Mauer, Minnesota won two of three games against Milwaukee May 18-20 in its first interleague series of this season.
Washington (24-36) lost two of its three interleague games against Baltimore that weekend, and is coming off a homestand during which it lost six of nine.
The Nationals matched a season low with three hits as they capped the homestand with a 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh on Thursday.
But Dmitri Young continued his hot streak with a two-run homer in the first inning for Washington. He is batting .508 (32-for-63) in his last 19 games, raising his season average 102 points to .329.
Young, who spent his previous five seasons in the AL with Detroit, is a .320 career hitter against Minnesota.
Jason Simontacchi (2-4, 5.61 ERA) gets the start for the Nationals in the opener. The right-hander was reached for six runs - four earned - in 4 2-3 innings on Sunday in a 7-3 loss to San Diego.
The right-hander will make his first career appearance against Minnesota.
The Twins will counter with right-hander Carlos Silva (3-6, 3.86), who has posted a 2.53 ERA in five starts at the Metrodome this year.
On Saturday, Silva held Oakland to one run and five hits in eight innings, but took the loss as Minnesota managed only three hits in the 1-0 defeat.
The Twins have not faced the Washington franchise since it moved from Montreal before the 2005 season. They did, however, sweep the Montreal Expos in a three-game series June 15-17, 2004 - these teams’ only previous meetings.