When not starting, Twins' Suzuki stays ready in a pinch

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 8, 2014 - 12:33 AM

– In 48 innings this season, Royals pitcher Wade Davis has given up only one extra-base hit, and it was to a guy who wasn’t even in the starting lineup.

Padres closer Joaquin Benoit’s save Wednesday was nearly spoiled by a leadoff hit, collected by a guy who wasn’t in the lineup.

Yep, Kurt Suzuki might consider pinch hitting “the hardest thing to do in baseball,” but the All-Star catcher sometimes makes it look easy. In a season when Twins pinch hitters are batting just .190 with no home runs, among the worst in the American League, Suzuki almost makes manager Ron Gardenhire wish he was available for the late-inning duty every day.

“I’ve had some pretty good success pinch-hitting throughout my career,” said Suzuki, in his eighth major league season. “But by no means do I think it’s easy. … Maybe it’s something where I get lucky and get a hit once a day.”

Maybe, but his 10-for-22 career success rate, a .455 average and .586 on-base percentage, is remarkable for a job in which players must come off the bench cold, knowing they will probably get only one at-bat in the game. It’s a small sample size, admittedly, mostly because Suzuki has been a starter for most of his career, but it’s a task that he takes seriously.

Being a catcher helps, too, he said. “I watch the game. I like to watch our pitchers pitch and see how they work hitters, see what’s working and what’s not,” Suzuki said Thursday, when he gave the Twins their first base-runner with a clean sixth-inning single after Oakland’s Jon Lester retired the first 15 batters he faced. “Doing that keeps me in the game a little bit more.”

Spending a year with the Nationals made him aware of the need to be constantly ready, too, since NL teams pinch hit so much more frequently. So on days when he’s not starting, “about the sixth inning, I just look at the lineup, see how it’s going to turn over, and to which guys in the bullpen,” he said. “You kind of have your mind-set — where might you hit if guys [get] on base, who you might face. ... You have to be ready all the time.”

He has been this year. Suzuki is 2-for-5 with three walks, by far the most successful pinch hitter on the Twins. He doubled off Davis last week in Kansas City, driving in a run and ending the reliever’s record streak of not giving up an extra-base hit all year. And his 10th-inning single Wednesday, followed by a sacrifice bunt to move him to second base, gave the Twins two shots at tying the score.

Still a mystery

The Twins aren’t ready to reveal who will start Saturday’s game against the A’s, but it appears likely to be one of two pitchers at Class AAA Rochester — lefthander Kris Johnson or righthander Trevor May.

“We’ll let you know tomorrow,” was all Gardenhire would say about the opening, but the Twins did say that a roster move is anticipated after Friday’s game, presumably to add that starting pitcher.

Johnson has made three starts this year for the Twins, posting a 4.73 ERA in 13⅓ innings. He is 9-5 with a 3.12 ERA at Rochester. May, the highly regarded prospect who has yet to pitch in the major leagues, is 8-6 with a 2.93 ERA.

Etc.

• Third base coach Joe Vavra might be out for a few weeks. The 54-year-old has been bothered all season by a bad hip and plans to undergo hip replacement surgery in the near future. Scott Ullger replaced Vavra at third a few weeks ago, as his mobility became increasingly limited, with Paul Molitor taking Ullger’s spot at first base.

• Righthander Ricky Nolasco threw a bullpen session in Cedar Rapids, reporting no problems. He will make his second rehab start for the Class A Kernels on Sunday. First baseman Joe Mauer got Thursday off but will resume his rehab assignment Friday.

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