© 2009 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

04/11/09 5:25 PM ET

Mauer to begin running next week

Catcher feeling strong as he prepares for final step of rehab

CHICAGO -- Twins catcher Joe Mauer is getting closer to getting back on the field, as the final step in his rehabilitation program is within sight.

Mauer is scheduled to begin a running program early next week, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said on Saturday.

The Twins have said that running will be the final step for Mauer before he can get back on the field and playing. It's the only time that he has felt pain in his inflamed right sacroiliac joint this spring.

Mauer, who is on the 15-day disabled list with inflammation in his lower back, has been working out at the club's training facility in Fort Myers, Fla. He's made significant strides this past week -- taking batting practice on the field with Class A Fort Myers and taking a full session of infield. He also continued to catch bullpens and progress in his strength and training regimen.

The catcher has been running in a pool as part of his cardio program. It puts less stress on his back while allowing him to strengthen his legs.

Things have been going so well, Gardenhire said, that they've had to temper Mauer's push to try to do more than his workout program has scheduled for him. He's been eager to try running, but the plan is to have him not push too hard, too quickly.

"He feels great and he wants to push the envelope," Gardenhire said. "Early in the spring it was us saying, 'We want you to go' and he was like, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa.' Now, it's just the opposite, which we thought it would be once he started feeling good and had no pain. Now he's ready to go. He wants to up the program and we're just telling him, 'Let's take it easy here and let's get you to where we need to get you.'"

The Twins have not said publicly the date they are targeting for Mauer's return, but the expectation is that he'll rejoin the team before the end of April. The hope is that Mauer won't need many Minor League games to get timing down with his swing once he proves he can run on a field without pain.

There is no doubt that the Twins are eager to get Mauer back.

"There is a swagger that you miss without Joe Mauer and other teams recognize that, and it puts a lot of pressure on the other team -- offensively and defensively -- because he's that good," Gardenhire said. "Can we make up for it? We don't have a choice; we have to. But will it be better when he gets back? Not knocking anybody else, but absolutely. He's an impact player."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.