KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Mitch Garver figures he might work harder on days he’s not playing, just to stay ready for the days he does.
“You’ve got to keep your eyes ready. You have to prepare defensively, doing drills and bullpens, just to stay in that mind-set,” the Twins catcher said. “You have to be ready to play every single day, whether you do or you don’t. It’s not easy.”
He made it look that way Wednesday, when the bottom five hitters in the Twins’ lineup were players who didn’t start Opening Day. Or Tuesday, for that matter. Collectively, that group contributed seven hits and drove in four runs, giving manager Rocco Baldelli confidence he can freely substitute.
“There were a lot of [new] faces out there, doing a lot of good things,” Baldelli said.
Garver had a double and two singles, driving in two runs. Ehire Adrianza drove in a run with a sacrifice fly, and Tyler Austin doubled and made a couple of difficult catches near the stands, once tumbling over the tarp as he caught it.
And Willians Astudillo continued his amazing hot streak, collecting hits in his first three at-bats — a single to right field, a single to left, and a double to center. It meant the third baseman/catcher had hits in six of his first seven at-bats of 2019, plus a sacrifice fly and a hit batsman, and though he grounded into two double plays later in the game, the legend of “La Tortuga” only grew.
“What he does is special. The only other guy I can think of who does anything remotely like that — a little bit less unique than Willians — is Jose Altuve,” Garver said. “He barrels a lot of baseballs, he gets hits, he hits balls hard, he hits ball soft, and he’s [always] on base. It’s good. The Astros win a lot of games with a guy like that.”
It certainly worked Wednesday, when Astudillo scored both of Garver’s first two RBI hits of 2019.
“I like hitting behind him,” Garver said, “because he’s always on base.”
Tony Diaz had been warned. The Twins’ new third base coach, briefed about the baserunners he would be directing, understood that Eddie Rosario regards base-running as a game of chicken.
“I’m out there giving him good suggestions. I’m suggesting things,” Diaz said with a laugh about the Twins’ most daring baserunner. “But he’s got great instincts for the game, and you never want to take that away from a player.”
Diaz had his first Eddie Moment on Tuesday night, when Rosario, running from first base on a 3-2 count, glided toward third base after C.J. Cron’s single to left field. Alex Gordon made the routine play, picking up the ball and lobbing it toward shortstop Adalberto Mondesi.
“There are many players who play the game, not improper or wrong, just sort of lenient,” Rosario said. “And I’m not like that. I play the game aggressively, and follow my instincts.”
They told him that neither Gordon nor Mondesi expected him to do anything but obey Diaz, who was signaling for him to stop. So Rosario never broke stride and roared past Diaz. Mondesi caught the ball, turned and discovered Rosario was halfway home. He heaved it home, but the throw was high and Rosario beat it with a head-first dive.
“I was surprised, but he has instincts like that. He’s been doing it for a while, and it works for the most part,” Diaz said. “You’re not going to be perfect every time — but if he’s 80 percent successful, we’re good.”
• With Byron Buxton out of the starting lineup, Jake Cave got his first start of the season, but in right field, with Max Kepler shifting over to center. Did the Twins’ statistical analysis of each players’ defense determine that was the best alignment? “I don’t really look at the numbers. I just kind of wing it and make it up as we go,” Baldelli said, tongue-in-cheek.