Twins have to work hard to overcome their cold bats

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 13, 2011 - 12:55 AM
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Joe Mauer drove in Alexi Casilla in the third inning Tuesday with a sacrifice fly. For all of Mauer’s struggles at the plate to start the season, his .235 batting average is third among the nine Twins with 19 or more at-bats.

Photo: Jim Mone, Associated Press

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You wouldn't have given a whole lot for Danny Valencia's chances in the 10th inning on Tuesday night, not after the first two pitches from Kansas City righthander Robinson Tejeda.

K.C. manager Ned Yost had broken out two of his young hard throwers in support of starter Jeff Francis.

Righthander Aaron Crow took over to start the eighth, hit 95 miles per hour with his fastball and recorded four outs without much trouble.

Yost then went to Tim Collins, a lefthander listed at 5-7 and said to be two inches shorter. When asked about Collins' lack of stature, the Royals mention another undersized lefty -- Billy Wagner -- who had a fair run as a hard-throwing reliever.

Collins came in with one out in the ninth to face pinch hitter Jim Thome. He surrendered a single, but three more lefties were lined up.

Denard Span flew out deep to center, and Joe Mauer flied out to right. And then Collins opened the 10th by getting Justin Morneau called out on strikes.

This will be an issue for the Twins all season when facing power lefthanders late in a ballgame. The lefty batters are bunched together, meaning that an opposing manager needs only one lefty on the mound to get through a hunk of the lineup.

The righthanders came next for the Twins, so Yost went to Tejeda, one of his bullpen veterans.

Delmon Young was 0-for-4 so far. He had struck out twice against the lefthanded Francis, and his average had dropped to .162.

Among all the struggling Twins hitters so far this season, Young's troubles have been the No. 1 surprise. He became a force for the Twins with 112 RBI in 2010. And for most of the exhibition schedule, he was hitting the ball harder than any of Ron Gardenhire's key weapons.

Then the season started and, swoosh, there went Delmon back to swinging early at pitches that weren't in the strike zone. This return to bad habits for Young can't last long for the Twins, not with their lack of righthanded threats.

This time, Young had a plan and rifled a single to right. Tejeda then walked Michael Cuddyer, giving a perfect night (four singles and a walk) to a hitter that was sitting at .107 at game time.

"What was different tonight?" Cuddyer was asked in a postgame interview.

The answer came quick: "I got some hits."

Jason Kubel followed with a drive to right and, from his reaction, thought it was gone. Clearly, Kubel has not regained his Target Field mindset:

What you think is gone at this big new yard probably isn't, unless Thome is the guy that hit it.

Right fielder Jeff Francoeur had the ball in his glove at the wall. Jason Repko, pinch-running for Young, retreated to second. Then the ball popped out, and Repko was able to reach only to third.

So, that brings us back to Valencia against Tejeda. The third baseman popped the first pitch back out of play, then he was late on a fastball. It was 3-3 on the scoreboard and 0-2 in the count.

After drawing a ball, Valencia hit a fly ball that dropped in right field, and the Twins had the first serious victory celebration of the season.

Man, this was hard work -- as has been the case in the four one-run victories that have come with six losses in the first 12 days of the season.

The Twins actually had 13 hits on Tuesday ... and they were good for 14 total bases. The team batting average of .228 is only the tip of this iceberg-size collection of cold bats.

The Twins have 14 doubles and three home runs among 76 hits, with a whopping 17 extra-base hits in 10 games. That leaves a woeful slugging percentage of .296. And with a mere 24 walks/HBP, the on-base percentage is .279.

Mauer is batting a paltry .235. Guess what? That's third among the nine players with 19 or more at-bats -- trailing Kubel's .314 and Span's .275.

Throw in shaky baserunning, including Tuesday's canters into second by both Alexi Casilla and Valencia when they should have been at third, and so far in 2011, the Twins have been trying to win gun battles with cap pistols.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. preusse@startribune.com

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