Former Twins manager Tom Kelly is convinced this year’s team can compete with anybody, as long as it continues to pitch like it has recently.
The two-time World Series champion, who did television commentary on Twins home games last week, also said he is convinced that Joe Mauer, who hit .187 during a 22-game stretch recently, will break out of his recent slump and hit .300 this season.
“He got three hits [Wednesday] so let’s hope he’s on the upside here, going up,” Kelly said Thursday. “It’s hard to believe he’s not going to hit .300. He has always been that. So he has had a little rough go but getting the three hits yesterday, that certainly bodes well. Let’s hope he keeps going forward.
“I would be surprised if he doesn’t [turn it around].”
Kelly, who worked with Mauer on his first base defense this spring, was asked to evaluate the three-time batting champion’s play at his new position.
“How many errors does he have over there?” Kelly asked rhetorically, since the number is zero. “He must be doing all right then.”
On the topic of the Twins pitching, Kelly said: “I think we’re very, very competitive, especially when we pitch good. When we pitch good, I believe we can beat anybody. But that’s always the question, whether we’re going to pitch good enough, or any ballclub for a matter of fact. If you don’t pitch good you’re going to have a hard time.
“So I think that they’re certainly going to be in every ballgame that, when they pitch good, they certainly have a good chance to win. We’ll see how that goes throughout the remainder of the first half here, and then obviously into the second half. The bottom line is you have to pitch good, and when we do that we certainly can win.”
Impressed by offense
The thing that has impressed Kelly the most with manager Ron Gardenhire’s club is the offense.
“The lineup is terrific,” he said. “I would match them fellas up with just about anybody, don’t you think? That’s a pretty good lineup.”
That lineup received a big boost this week with the signing of veteran switch hitter Kendrys Morales, who after not playing all year went 6-for-13 with three doubles in the three-game series at Toronto.
“He has always been a free swinger and has a good idea what he wants to do,” Kelly said. “I always felt that he was very dangerous when he walked up there. I had a lot of respect for that fella. I think he is a pretty good hitter.”
In a season full of surprises on offense, perhaps none has been bigger than rookie Danny Santana, who is hitting .372 with five doubles, two home runs, 12 RBI, 12 runs scored and four stolen bases through 25 games. He has solidified the leadoff spot in the lineup, reaching base and scoring in the first inning of each game against the Blue Jays.
“He’s a very exciting player, and he always has been,” Kelly said. “It’s just a matter of, when he was trying to learn shortstop he was error-prone, had some throwing problems, and finishing plays made a lot of errors. This past spring I thought he improved immensely with his defense at shortstop, and he was very close to being a big-leaguer. So Gardy has him playing center field out of necessity, and he has done a good job out there for the most part. He’s learning on the job, but I think in the future he’s going to be a shortstop.”
Is that center field position a problem?
“Right now it is not, but we don’t have a true center fielder right now,” Kelly said, adding he wants to see what Gardenhire does when Sam Fuld returns from his concussion. As for Santana, Kelly said: “Santana is not hurting them out there, so I don’t know what [Gardenhire’s] going to do, but Santana has filled in really well.”
Fuld has hit .429 in his rehab assignment with Class AA New Britain and could return to the Twins on Friday.