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Mastroianni a student of stealing

  • Article by: JASON GONZALEZ and La VELLE E. NEAL III
  • Star Tribune Staff Writers
  • August 1, 2012 - 7:58 PM

Stealing back-to-back bases in Tuesday night's game was always Darin Mastroianni's plan.

The Twins outfielder knew the opposing pitcher's tendencies well and exploited them.

On consecutive pitches from Francisco Liriano in the sixth inning, Mastroianni stole second and then third. The rapid advancement helped set up a two-run inning for the Twins.

"I know the routine he is usually in," Mastroianni said about his recently traded former teammate. "It was my plan going in. It was a lot easier than I thought."

It wasn't any easy task, though. The backup outfielder diligently studies pitchers and catchers, even his own, from the bench. Any sort of tip makes his already impressive speed that much more of a threat.

Manager Ron Gardenhire said Mastroianni is always offering a scouting report to teammates and coaches.

"He has great instincts for stealing bases," Gardenhire said. "He is very aggressive and very confident and studies the pitchers. He knows what he's looking for. Is openly talking about it. Gets really into it."

The pair of stolen bases were as good as a home run to Mastroianni. Like the long ball, it meant runs for his team.

"To be able to manufacture a run like that and take Frankie out of his rhythm ... you take control," he said.

The stealing continued Wednesday when Mastroianni stole his 12th bag of the season in the ninth inning. The Twins had four steals in the game.

Feeling comfortable

A home run, late-inning walk and four infield assists are signs that third baseman Danny Valencia isn't having any problem settling in since his call-up.

Filling in for injured Trevor Plouffe, Valencia has four hits and four RBI in his past four games.

Even Gardenhire is impressed with Valencia's at-bats, referencing the hitter's ability to carry his consistent bat from in the minor leagues to the big leagues.

"You're out there playing baseball trying to be competitive and play hard, and doing those things and making those plays are all part of it," Valencia said about his recent string of success. "I feel pretty comfortable."

He was 1-for-3 Wednesday with a home run, walk, run and RBI.

Plouffe getting close

Plouffe said on Wednesday that he plans to swing a bat on Friday and probably Saturday as the bone bruise he has near his thumb is starting to come around.

"It's feeling a lot better," he said.

Plouffe has been on the 15-day disabled list since July 21 and is scheduled to come off on Sunday. General Manager Terry Ryan said if Plouffe proves that he can swing a bat and go through an entire batting practice without incident, he likely will rejoin the club. Plouffe is batting .259 with 19 homers and 38 RBI in as season in which his bat came around.

That could be bad news for Valencia.

Swarzak update

Righthander Anthony Swarzak, who landed on the disabled list last week with a rotator cuff strain, will try to play catch on Saturday. It will be his first activity since the injury.

If that goes well, he hopes to throw in the bullpen early next week.

This is new territory for Swarzak, who had avoided the disabled list for his entire nine-year professional career. He pitched on July 25 in Chicago with no problems and had his usual velocity. But he couldn't even play catch two days later, leading to an exam.

"It makes you appreciate all those years you were healthy," he said.

Swarzak is 2-4 with a 4.43 ERA in 31 games (four starts) this season but has posted a 3.02 ERA as a reliever.

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