Tyler Austin knows the numbers. He’s a career .304 hitter against left-handed pitching, and a .199 hitter against right-handers. That’s why this past week, and especially Saturday night, were encouraging.
Austin, acquired in the Lance Lynn trade just before the deadline, has started five games in the last seven days, three against righties and two against lefties. Not only is he happy that Paul Molitor is giving him chances to work on his weakness, but he’s making it pay off for the Twins, too. In fact, ironically, Austin had hits in the games against right-handers, five hits in all, while going hitless against the lefties.
“It’s always good when you come to the yard and see your name in the lineup. Hopefully you can do whatever you can to contribute,” he said. “So yeah, it’s exciting.”
None more exciting than Saturday’s seventh-inning at-bat against Oakland reliever Lou Trivino, though. The righthander was throwing 98-mph heat and 92-mph cutters, and Austin was just trying to cope.
“To be honest, I was just trying to put the ball in play, that was the main thing,” Austin said. “These guys, man, they are so talented, from top to bottom. You have to try to battle and just work with what you get.”
He fell behind 0-2, then got a high cutter over the plate. He took it the other way, and it carried into the flower pots atop the right-field wall, his 12th home run of the season, fourth as a Twin, and first since arriving off a righthander.
“Not surprisingly, we want to get a pretty good look here, and we’ll get him in there as much as we can. But he’s showing some life,” Molitor said. “He’s covering some pitches [that] the first couple of games we saw him swinging through, or hitting somewhat meekly. He’s staying on the ball better. The home run, he got a cutter up and out and he was still able to muscle it out to right field. So he’s an interesting guy.”
Jake Cave picked up his second and third outfield assists of the season on Saturday, but one of them wasn’t exactly a textbook play.
In the first inning, Jed Lowrie lofted a sinking liner to Cave in right, and it dipped into the sunlight as it came down. Cave flinched, the ball hit his glove and popped out. But Cave didn’t panic — he scooped up the ball with his throwing hand and whistled it to second base in time to force out Matt Chapman, who had walked.
“A little adventurous out there, but he made a nice recovery,” Moltor said. “Athletic, in terms of recovery and bare-handing and making an accurate throw to get the force.”
Three innings later, Cave picked up a bloop single by Mark Canha and made a perfect throw to third base to beat Chad Pinter, who was out easily trying to advance two bases.
“It was one of those plays where he cut down his distance by being aggressive to the ball,” Molitor said, “and then he threw it on the money.”
Molitor on Willians Astudillo’s first major-league game behind the plate: “It was pretty good. I didn’t feel like really we missed a lot of pitches or blocks, anything like that. He was mindful, he was checking in between innings, making sure he was on page with the plan and the upcoming hitters. He got through it fairly well.”