In the clutch, Twins can't find gear

  • Updated: August 19, 2013 - 7:53 AM

The team is failing at hitting with runners in scoring position, and it’s messing with the batters’ minds, players and coaches say.

Oh yeah, it’s mental at this point.

“Everyone knows it,” Twins hitting coach Tom Brunansky said. “Everyone senses it. They press and try to do too much.”

It looks like the Twins are grinding sawdust out of their bat handles as they try, and fail, to drive in runs. It couldn’t have been more clear Sunday as the Twins fell to the White Sox 5-2 while going 2-for-18 with runners in scoring position. Chicago took three of four games in this series, and the Twins are 2-5 on their homestand with one game left to play.

For a change, there’s something holding the Twins back other than sputtering starting pitching.

They were 9-for-46 with RISP in the four-game series against the White Sox. They are .211 during their homestand, where they should feel more comfortable at the plate.

“It’s one of those things where you look at our lineup,” said second baseman Brian Dozier, who doubled and scored the Twins’ second and final run in the third inning. “We’ve got a great lineup and I feel like a lot of people are doing their jobs, but at the same time, you have to come up with those big hits. You can’t let someone come in here and outhit us. Even if you get down by a few runs early, I don’t think anyone should outhit us.”

If you add the four games in Chicago before this homestand — where the Twins were 3-for-37 with RISP — they are hitting .167 in those situations the past 11 games. In the Mike Redmond days, the Twins coined a phrase, “Smell those RBI,” when runners reached second and third.

No one should get close enough to this offense to get a whiff of it right now.

“The thing that we are reminding each other of is just to go up there, maintain your approach,” Brunansky said. “Try to remember what the guy is trying to do to you, the count, the situation, and go up there and put a good swing on the ball. Get a good at-bat and let the results take care of themselves.”

Fomer Twins manager Tom Kelly was once asked during the rough years how a team can improve hitting in run-scoring situations. Kelly looked the questioner right in the eye and said, “Get better players.”

In 2010, the Twins led baseball with a .285 batting average in run-scoring situations. They talked about how seriously they take batting practice, when they invent scenarios on the field and try to move a runner over and drive him in. The Twins entered Sunday 27th in baseball at .234.

They clicked in the second inning Sunday when Oswaldo Arcia grounded out to second, enabling Trevor Plouffe to score from third. Josh Willingham drove in Dozier from second with a double in the third.

“We work on the skills every day,” said Dozier, who entered the game with a team-high .330 average with runners in scoring position. “Arcia came up in a situation, fought off a good breaking ball and got the job done. You’ve got to do more. A couple times we had first and second, nobody out. You have to bear down a little more and at least put the ball in play.”

While the Twins were leaving men on base, the White Sox got a big game from shortstop Alexei Ramirez, who was 3-for-4 with a home run and three RBI. Chicago lefty Hector Santiago threw 117 pitches over six innings but gave up only one earned run, thanks in part to the Twins’ inability to finish off rallies.

“Guys read about it and guys know about it,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of the current state of the offense. “They are all working at it. The only way you can get better at it is come up in game situations, and you can’t practice game situations during batting practice. We just have to find a way to put the ball in play a little better and find us some holes. Right now, we’re not finding any.”

La Velle E. Neal III • lneal@startribune.com

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