Jeff Passan writes about Joe Mauer "playing through all kinds of pain"

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Yahoo! Sports columnist Jeff Passan is one of my favorite writers and Twins catcher Joe Mauer is one of my favorite players, so his piece today entitled “Mauer playing through all kinds of pain” is a must-read:

Joe Mauer is hurt. He smiles through the pain because the unwritten part of a $184 million contract calls for grinning and bearing. He refuses to talk about his injuries because to do so would be to admit they exist, and to do that would seem like an excuse, and if there is anything Joe Mauer hates, it’s excuses. So he plays. “I’m in the lineup,” he said. …

Mauer’s left heel nags him. His right shoulder aches. Two other injuries–his back and his hip, for which the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported he receives treatment–are something neither he nor the organization will address publicly.

On one hand I’m hesitant to post an excerpt like that because it’ll inevitably lead to the usual histrionics about a position switch for the game’s best catcher. On the other hand, Passan is awesome, the column is very good, and I’ve heard rumblings all season about Mauer being more hurt than he’s let on publicly.

It’s easy to focus on the fact that Mauer has lost 200 points of OPS from his MVP-winning campaign, but a dropoff was to be expected following one of the greatest seasons by a catcher in baseball history and his numbers this year are very close to his pre-2009 career marks.

Mauer has been on fire since the All-Star break, raising his season line to .308/.374/.462. Prior to winning the MVP with an out-of-character power display he hit .317/.399/.457. Factor in the move to pitcher-friendly Target Field plus offense being down across baseball this season and those numbers are basically identical.

Mauer’s lack of production has generally been overstated, in no small part because of the timing of winning an MVP with an historic season and then signing a $184 million contract. He’s not hitting like he was last season and injuries may be partly to blame, but he is hitting like he did from 2004-2008 and that still makes Mauer one of the best all-around players in baseball.

There was another miscommunication between the Phillies and Pat Neshek

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Back in June 2017, then-manager of the Phillies Pete Mackanin and reliever Pat Neshek had some miscommunication. In a series against the Cardinals, Neshek worked a five-pitch eighth inning and it was believed he would come back out for the ninth inning, but he never did. Mackanin said Neshek said he didn’t want to pitch another inning. Neshek said he was never asked. There was also some miscommunication the game prior. Neshek thought he had the day off; Mackanin said Neshek said he wasn’t available to pitch.

Mackanin is no longer the Phillies’ manager, but the miscommunication between Neshek and the team apparently persist. Neshek was notably absent during the Phillies’ hard-fought 5-4 win over the Cubs on Monday night. The game featured a struggling Seranthony Domínguez pitching two innings, yielding three crucial runs in his second inning of work.

Manager Gabe Kapler called the bullpen and instructed Neshek to begin warming up to prepare to face Albert Almora, Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Kapler rang the bullpen after Domínguez walked Jason Heyward, who batted ahead of Almora. Neshek wasn’t warmed up yet. Domínguez was able to retire Almora on a sacrifice bunt, which was reviewed and gave Neshek some extra time to get ready. He was ready for the next batter, Daniel Descalso, but at this point Kapler no longer wanted to bring Neshek into the game. Descalso lined a triple to left-center field, scoring two runs and came home himself when shortstop Jean Segura‘s throw caromed off of his foot out of play.

Recounting the situation, Neshek said, “I got on the mound and threw two pitches. [Kapler] said, ‘Is he ready?’ And I said, ‘No. I’m not ready yet. I’ve thrown two pitches.” Neshek was asked how long it takes him to get ready. The veteran said, “A minute. Not 20 seconds. I’m, like, the best in the league at getting ready. My whole career has been coming in like that.”

The Phillies were able to eke out a 5-4 win. Had they lost the game, Kapler and Neshek would likely have been under the microscope for the awkward situation leading to a crushing defeat. Kapler drew plenty of criticism over his bullpen management last year in his rookie managerial season. That included bringing in lefty reliever Hoby Milner into a game in which he hadn’t yet warmed up.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence that the manager who struggled with bullpen management last year nearly mucked up a win last night, and maybe it’s just a coincidence that a reliever who’s had prior issues with communication had another communication mix-up. Maybe it’s not. It’s worth noting that the Phillies needed three innings from the bullpen to protect a 2-1 lead over the Cubs on Tuesday. Kapler called on rookie Edgar Garcia for two outs, lefty José Álvarez for four, and then brought in Juan Nicasio to close things out in the ninth. No Neshek, even as Nicasio got into trouble. Nicasio would surrender the tying and go-ahead runs, resulting in a deflating 3-2 loss.