Joe Mauer and Tom Brunansky were just casually chatting in the Twins' clubhouse Wednesday morning. Well, Mauer was just chatting. Brunansky was listening for clues.
And when he heard what he was listening for, he had a suggestion: Grab a bat.
"At this level, you have to listen. A lot. You have to ask the questions," Brunansky, the Twins' new hitting coach, said of his methods. "You hear certain things, how they respond in a certain way, it's like, 'OK. Now I know what you think. Now I know what you feel. So let's go play.' "
That's how a three-time batting champion ended up taking an unusual private lesson after his regular workout, a session to make sure his legs are in the proper position. Mauer and Brunansky worked with a hitting tee for about 20 minutes, discussing the finer points of the hitting mechanics that have produced a career .323 batting average. The chance to watch a couple of accomplished hitters quickly drew a crowd.
"He made a couple of comments to me, so we went a little deeper with that. Maybe he doesn't feel real comfortable right now with this particular pitch, or this situation. So OK -- let's go play," Brunansky said. "This is kind of like fun time. It's not grinding. We're not sitting in the cage looking for a perfect swing. All we're doing out there is getting him to turn on a couple of pitches, and when he feels that, then it's like muscle memory takes over."
Mauer told Brunansky that his balance hadn't felt right during an at-bat on Tuesday, a small thing but one that the hitting coach is trained to fix. He brought a fungo bat out to the field -- longer and with a heavier barrel than a normal bat -- and had Mauer hit balls off the tee.
"The fungo makes him accountable. You've got to be able to use your legs to swing this, because if not, the bat head drops," Brunansky said. "You're not going to square stuff up."
The pair of Twins hitters conferred after every couple of swings, with Brunansky trying to gauge how comfortable Mauer was with his footwork.
"It's not like we're going to reinvent Joe Mauer," Brunansky said. "All we want is to let Joe feel what his legs should feel like, get his legs under him. So we're just going to go out and mess around and get that feeling back. That's all it takes -- these guys are so good, once you get a feel for it, it's easy to duplicate it."