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Twins' Mauer ups average to .306 with three-hit game against Blue Jays

Minnesota Twins first baseman Joe Mauer (7) hits a grand slam in the fifth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday, Sept. 17, at Target Field. Brad Rempel / USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS—With three hits Sunday, Sept. 17, including a game-breaking grand slam in the fifth inning of the Twins' 13-7 win over the Blue Jays, Joe Mauer upped his batting average to .306.

The first baseman who hasn't hit above .277 the past three seasons is hitting at a .400 clip since Aug. 10, a major reason why the Twins continue to inch toward a postseason berth.

"Joe has endured a lot the last few years," manager Paul Molitor said. "He's found a way this year to be out there on a regular basis, taking advantage of a break here and there to make sure he stays strong. He's been our most consistent take-a-good-bat kind of guy not to mention playing gold glove defense."

Mauer's grand slam Sunday helped the Twins overcome an early 5-0 deficit and boosted his already high numbers with the bases loaded. In those situations during his 14-year career, Mauer has four grand slams and is hitting .375 with 126 runs batted in in 112 at-bats.

"It's fun getting those opportunities," Mauer said. "You try not to do more than what you need to. Hitting the home run there was great, but I was just trying to put a good swing on it and hit the ball hard. I try not to do too much in those situations."

Mauer saved his infield at least one throwing error with his fine play at first base Sunday, and added a fourth inning double and second inning RBI.

But he downplayed his recent success.

"It's been enjoyable just because of what we've been doing collectively," Mauer said. "It's been a lot of fun for me to see the progress of our young guys. We've had some great additions to the team this year and we have a good vibe going right now and we're trying to keep it that way."

BATTLING BRUISES

One hundred-and-forty-nine games into this surprising Twins season, the team is still playing meaningful games in their quest to nab a wild card spot, making it easy for players to take the field through minor injuries.

Sunday afternoon, Byron Buxton and Jason Castro both took the field against the Blue Jays less than 24 hours after being bruised in the team's loss the night before.

Buxton was back in center field even after he smacked his head against the wall in center field in the ninth inning Saturday, Sept. 16, while trying to rob Josh Donaldson of a home run.

"It was a little bit of an awkward fall given the fact that he made such an incredible effort to keep that ball in the park," manager Paul Molitor said. "I talked to him this morning. I was concerned a little about him, but he's good."

Behind the plate Saturday, Castro was bruised after taking foul balls off his collarbone and shoulder.

"Castro took a couple good shots," Molitor said. "He's a little sore."

But with only two weeks remaining in this season and the Twins still battling for the likely right to play the New York Yankees in a one-game playoff matchup, Molitor said players are more willing to remain in the lineup even if they're bruised or sore.

"It's that time of year where unless it's something major, you're probably going to give it a shot and go out there," Molitor said. "I think the guys want to play."

Buxton went 3-for-4 with a homer and a double in the win, while Castro went 2-for-5 Sunday with two runs.

HILDENBERGER'S FIRST HICCUP

Even though Twins rookie reliever Trevor Hildenberger allowed three earned runs Saturday, the first time in his young career he's allowed more than two in an outing, Molitor said he doesn't feel he needs to give the 26-year-old a pep talk.

In part because Hildenberger has been so effective this season in amassing a 3.11 earned-run average with 40 strikeouts in 37.2 innings, Molitor said he's confident the rookie will bounce back fine.

"I don't worry about him too much," Molitor said. "I might offer a word of encouragement, but because he's been really good for a young guy who turns the page really well, he hasn't had many outings where we've had to do that with him. He's been so clean for the most part, so I'm not worried about any carryover physiologically for him."

Because Hildenberger pitched in three of the Twins last four games, Hildenberger didn't pitch Sunday afternoon.