ANAHEIM, CALIF. – Twins shortstop Pedro Florimon was in the middle of saying something nice about second baseman and double-play partner Brian Dozier.
“I like playing with him,” Florimon said. “He played shortstop last year, so he knows how it’s done.”
Dozier sneaked up from behind and tried to listen in. Without looking, Florimon playfully threw up his right elbow, causing Dozier to duck out of the way and run away laughing.
Even off the field, their timing is great.
It might take a while for the pair to realize their offensive potential, but they have clicked defensively to give the Twins a strong middle infield combination that’s one of the best in baseball. The Twins entered Monday with a Major League Baseball-leading 113 double plays, and the pair have produced many of them.
There’s a growing comfort level among Twins coaches and pitchers in the Florimon-Dozier partnership.
“I think they are incredibly underrated at their positions,” lefthander Scott Diamond said, “and to have them here with us skidding the way we did in the first half, we still have a lot of confidence in the way they play. We may not be pitching the best, we know the other team is going to put the ball in play, but they have been as solid as you can ask for.”
The Twins began a seven-game road trip Monday by opening a three-game series against the Angels, after Florimon and Dozier produced several memorable plays in recent games.
On Friday, Dozier leapt to catch a line drive by Cleveland’s Asdrubal Cabrera in the third inning and slung the ball over to Florimon in time to double up a runner. Florimon rushed in on a slow roller to throw out Jason Kipnis in the fourth, then dived to his right in the ninth to take a hit away from Michael Brantley.
On Saturday, Dozier opened the game by making a diving stop to his left on a grounder by Michael Bourn, spun around and got enough on a throw to get Bourn.
The stats — namely John Dewan’s plus-minus system — back up their play.
Dewan, who publishes “The Fielding Bible,” has a system that attempts to determine “how many plays did a fielder make above or below an average player at his position.”
Florimon, at plus-16, entered Monday ranked second among all shortstops, trailing only Atlanta’s Andrelton Simmons. Dozier, at plus-12, moved up to second place among players at his position, trailing only Boston’s Dustin Pedroia.
If you prefer Ultimate Zone Rating, another sabermetric formula used to compare fielders to average players at that position, Florimon (8.6) ranks second and Dozier seventh (2.3).
“You have to know each other so well up the middle in order to be able to click,” Dozier said. “You can play the game, you can turn double plays. But as far as timing of stuff, it’s about knowing where he likes to play, where I like to play.”
Their collaborations never will be perfect. With a runner on first in the second inning against Cleveland on Sunday, they both charged a soft ground ball up the middle. Florimon grabbed the ball and thought about attempting a tough throw to second before aborting the play, and both runners were safe.
“When you play together long enough, you get a good feel for where you can get the ball,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, a middle infielder during most of his playing career.
“Florimon’s play really was to get the ball and throw to first base, and my second baseman should be yelling to throw to first.”
But that has been a rare mix-up this season as the two settle in as a reliable middle infield tandem.
“It has been a bright spot for this baseball team,” Gardenhire said. “Dozier has really taken off at second base. He’s as good as any second basemen out there right now. I think he’s fielding the baseball, making all the plays and turning double plays. Florimon is still young, a very talented kid. He’s got range. He’s still learning the game but is a nice player doing a really nice job for us.”