FORT MYERS, FLA – By the end of the 2012 season, Brian Dozier was at Class AAA Rochester, landing in a hole he dug himself.
His demotion from the major leagues was the result of wasted at-bats, fielding miscues and mental errors. He made his debut with the Twins on May 7, but was back at Rochester by Aug. 12 after batting .234 with 15 errors in 84 games, mostly at shortstop. The Twins didn’t even bother to call him up in September when rosters were expanded, a decision that at the time had him seething.
But Dozier was able to smile Tuesday as he sat in front of his stall in the Twins clubhouse. He’s headed north as the starting second baseman after a strong spring during which he established himself as the clear choice.
What about last year? Dozier said that guy was an impostor, unable to play the game the way he can play it.
“You can make a couple of web gems and miss that one routine grounder,” he said “You can hit a homer but that one bunt you get down in the eighth everyone remembers. All aspects of your game have to be fine-tuned. That was a big thing for me.”
Dozier, 25, has made several impressive plays with his glove this month and has formed a good partnership with new shortstop Pedro Florimon. Dozier was 1-for-4 Tuesday during a 9-5 victory over Baltimore with one RBI. He’s batting .276 this spring with two home runs and eight RBI.
Not only has Dozier earned a spot in the lineup, but Twins manager Ron Gardenhire likely will bat Dozier second in the order. On Monday against St. Louis, Dozier bunted for a hit, then hit a home run, and said he was proud of that placement-and-power combo. He said he bunted and walked more in the minors and wants to get back to that.
Dozier’s determination to change things began during his time at Rochester following the demotion. His resolve kicked in when he wasn’t brought back for a September callup.
“I was pretty mad,” he said. “At the same time I think they were sending me a message that, ‘Hey, this is it’. This is a big deal that you just don’t bring anybody up. And I hadn’t earned it.”
Twins General Manager Terry Ryan and manager Ron Gardenhire called him during the offseason and asked him to get plenty of work in at second base. Dozier spent about a week with Bravos de Margarita of the Venezuelan Winter League, but ended up playing shortstop because they didn’t have one when he got there. He did put in some extra work at second base before games, and said he was comfortable there by the time he reported to spring camp. Dozier also has 201 minor league games at second under his belt.
“At second base, he’s doing great,” Gardenhire said. “And when he’s hitting, he’s a lot better right now. His swing is looking really nice now. He’s not dragging his bat early. He was dragging it on fly balls that were going up in the air. So he’s doing fine. Playing the game, he’s more relaxed. He’s looking more confident.”
Dozier said he’s ready to consistently make the routine plays. He’s ready to string together quality at-bats. He wants to bat second in Gardenhire’s lineup, believing he has the skills suited for that spot.
The game Dozier is talking about did not exist last season, he said. The real Brian Dozier did not stand up when given his first chance.
“Not at all,” he said. “I’m ready [now] though. Let’s go.”