The Twins aren’t scoring runs, and hitting coach Tom Brunansky knows that puts the spotlight squarely on his attempts to solve the problem.
“If you have a good year, it’s wine and roses,” Brunansky said. “If you struggle, which I did as a player as well, you get the knives and the daggers. Early in your career, it is more of a personal thing, because you don’t know how to handle it, and yet you understand that it’s not directed at you; it is what you have done on the field.
“As a staff member, we’re accountable for, in my case, what the offense is doing. And I wear it harder than everybody. I get that what they say isn’t directed to me as a person or as an individual, it reflects that the offense hasn’t been any good and it is a reflection of how our record is.”
This is not the offense Brunansky expected to see coming out of spring training, and he is constantly searching for ways to reprogram hitters who have gotten away from what they do well.
The Twins began Thursday tied for 27th in baseball — and last in the American League — with 167 runs. They were 26th with a .676 on base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS). Their .220 batting average with runners in scoring position was 27th. Their leadoff hitters have a .292 on-base percentage that is 29th in baseball.
Hitters aren’t getting on base, and the ones that do aren’t getting driven in. A whopping 33 of their 44 homers have been solo shots. Seattle, the Twins’ opponent this weekend, has hit 33 solo homers and 32 with men on base.
It’s a dysfunctional group, which is totally opposite of what Brunansky, 55, thought he would have this season. In spring training, Twins hitters worked on using the whole field, being more selective in hitter’s counts and not trying to be more than what they are. They bunched hits together, and Brunansky was encouraged.
The 0-9 start to the regular season, Brunansky said, led to players getting away from their strengths. Remember Trevor Plouffe saying he was trying to hit a three-run homer with nobody on base? He wasn’t the only one, and Brunansky, whose 14 seasons as a big-league outfielder included seven with the Twins, has spent the past several weeks trying to get hitters to adjust.
“Everything was good in spring training,” Brunansky said. “And then all of sudden everything tailspinned early. And through that you saw a lot of people trying to go beyond. One of the few people who didn’t was Joe [Mauer], and Joe kept saying, ‘Hey, we have to stay the course.’ His approach is to stay simple. But you saw a lot a guys trying to get out and beyond themselves. [Brian] Dozier went back into pull mode, and once you start to tailspin, it was tough to drag him back out. It got to the point where we had to sit him down for these couple days” in the just-completed homestand.
After not starting Monday and pinch hitting Tuesday, Dozier started Wednesday’s 7-5 victory over Kansas City and hit a home run in his first at-bat.
Miguel Sano also homered Wednesday, his first in eight days. Brunansky, with the help of assistant hitting coach Rudy Hernandez, has tried to help Sano deal with the massive expectations heaped on him after the young slugger hit 18 home runs in a half season last year.
“What you’re seeing is major ebbs and flows that you would expect from a young kid,” Brunansky said. “If he was in the middle of a lineup with guys around him doing a little bit more, it wouldn’t be as tough for him.”
Manager Paul Molitor understands the demands of a hitting coach and the creativity that’s needed in the role in order to connect with different hitters. And he likes how Brunansky takes on the challenge.
“He’s got to try to find the right buttons for each guy, which is tough,” Molitor said. “And the button that might have worked last September or in spring training might not work today. So you have to have more than one plan.”
The struggles this season have taught Brunansky that the solustion is often not physical.
“At this level, the struggles and everything we deal with is more mental than anything else,” he said. “The hitters want to believe it is physical because of the physical fixes. It’s easy and it doesn’t attack the mind-set or your heart — where you don’t want to admit that sometimes, we’re maybe not as strong there as we should be.”