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La Velle E. Neal III and Phil Miller report on the Twins from wherever they make news

Postgame: Mariners feared Hicks more than Mauer

    When the Twins win at home these days, I always think the same thing as I enter the clubhouse after the game: I wonder how much the cover charge is? Anyway, after the loud dance music and fog machine are put away, here are a handful of leftovers from the Twins’ first win since Friday:

    The notion would have seemed ludicrous a couple of years ago. In fact, it had never happened before. But this is how things have changed: With two outs and a runner on second base in the seventh inning Thursday, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon ordered relief pitcher David Rollins to walk Aaron Hicks in order to pitch to Joe Mauer instead.

    The Mariners would rather face a three-time batting champion than a third-year player with a .224 career batting average? It probably had more to do with their recent history, Twins manager Paul Molitor said.

    “It’s not so much the name on the uniform as who’s swinging the bat particularly well,” Molitor said. “I’ve seen some odd intentional walks to get to certain people when you don’t expect it.”

    Rollins is a left-hander who was in only his ninth major-league game, and Hicks a switch-hitter. Mauer is left-handed, so McClendon clearly wanted the platoon advantage.

    And then there is their recent history: Hicks already had three hits on Thursday, and 12 hits in his last five games, while Mauer was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. Though he had a 10-game hitting streak alive, Mauer was only 5-for-25 in his last five games, a .200 average. And it’s probably relevant to note that Hicks is hitting a career-high .299, while Mauer, though owning a .316 career batting average, is hitting just .274 this year.

    “They just went with percentages,” Molitor said.

    Maybe so, but it sure felt like a milestone. Walking someone ahead of Mauer is more than rare — it’s historic.

    It was the first time in Mauer’s 12-year career in which a team intentionally walked the batter in front of him in order to pitch to Mauer instead. Twice before, in 2010 and 2014, Mauer came up immediately after an intentional walk, but both times it was a pinch-hitter for the regularly scheduled hitter (Alexi Casilla once, Chris Parmelee the other time). Never had anyone walked a batter knowing that Mauer was due up next.

    In fact, it’s normally the other way around — only Harmon Killebrew (153) and Tony Oliva (131) have been intentionally walked more than Mauer (125) in Twins’ history. Mauer’s 10 free passes lead the team this year, too; nobody else has been walked more than four times.

    Anyway, Mauer got revenge for the historic snub the best way possible: He looped a sinking liner into center field, which Austin Jackson trapped, driving home Jorge Polanco with the Twins’ ninth run. 

XXX

    Phil Hughes thought I was being facetious when I asked him if he was surprised to come out after pitching five innings. After all, he had an 8-5 lead at that point, and had just retired the Mariners in order for the only time that night. He joked that he had simply done the minimum to get a win, and that’s all he wanted.

    “If I’m out there for the fifth, I can smell a win,” he said. “I had some decent stuff there in the fifth inning so I could get the W.”

    He allowed 10 hits and two home runs, increasing his AL lead in both categories. But on the bright side, he won his sixth straight game and improved to 10-6. Hughes, who also won six straight games last year, is the only Twins starter since 2010, when Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano each won eight straight, to have a streak that long.

    The righthander pointed out another piece of trivia: “I got my 10th win last year on a five-and-dive performance in Colorado, too,” Hughes said. “So it’s tradition.”

XXX

    Twins fans are clamoring for the front office to trade for relief pitching. Doesn’t the current bullpen take that as an insult?

    Not really, Casey Fien said.

    “Obviously we’re not doing our job out there. Maybe we should pitch better. Just look at the stats,” Fien said.

    But the bullpen was stellar on Thursday. After Hughes gave up five runs in five innings, the bullpen — Fien, Trevor May and Glen Perkins — shut the Mariners out for four innings.

    “That’s good, but we just need to make it a consistent thing,” Fien said. “It’s up and down, up and down.”

    Fien pitched two innings and retired all six batters he faced. A turning point?

    “I hope so,” he said. “I’ve been working with Neil and Eddie [pitching coach Neil Allen and bullpen coach Eddie Guardado] on my delivery and I think it all came together today. I got some outs.”

No Twins trades yet; Sano starts at third

    There was a trade pulled off at Target Field today, but not the one Twins fans hoped. The Mariners, who open a four-game series here tonight, dealt their former No. 2 overall pick, Dustin Ackley, to the Yankees for a minor-league outfielder and reliever Jose Ramirez.

    Will the Twins make a trade before Friday’s 3 p.m. CDT deadline? Even Paul Molitor says he doesn’t know, and he’s being kept up to date by general manager Terry Ryan. “Experience has taught me, you’re going to hear a lot of things, whether you’re a player, a fan, a manager. You just kind of wait and see if anything transpires,” Molitor said. “The best thing for me is to worry about things you can control in this job.”

    In other words, he’s more concerned about breaking the Twins’ four-game losing streak, which has cut their lead in the wild-card chase to one game over Baltimore. But Molitor wants his team to focus not on the streak, but on all they have accomplished thus far this season. “We’re just trying to spread the word — remember where you’re at,” Molitor said. “We’ve got a lot of baseball yet to play. I’ve got a lot of confidence.”

    He’s got confidence in Phil Hughes, his hottest starting pitcher in July. Hughes has a personal five-game winning streak going, and has posted a 2.49 ERA in July.

    Another reason for confidence: The level of competition is a little different. The Twins have spent the past week and a half playing the Angels, Yankees and Pirates, playoff teams all. The Mariners, despite high hopes in March, are 10 games below .500 and, in trading Ackley, may have begun dismantling their team. The Twins took two out of three in Seattle, way back in April, and they won’t face Felix Hernandez this weekend.

    Speaking of this weekend, that’s when Molitor expects Trevor Plouffe to return. The third baseman was present late last night for the birth of his first child, Theodore Winston James Plouffe, and Molitor urged him to take all three allowable days on the paternity list. “They’re going to take the time to get acclimated to the new life they have brought in,” Molitor said of Plouffe and his wife, Olivia. “I would take the three days if I was him, because it’s pretty special.”

    Miguel Sano will fill in for Plouffe at third base tonight, and Jorge Polanco is playing short — “we’ve been joking we’re playing the Chattanooga left side of the infield,” Molitor said — to give each of the 22-year-olds a chance to get acclimated to big-league defense.

    Here are the lineups for tonight’s game:

 

MARINERS    

 

Jackson CF

Seager 3B

Cruz RF

Smith LF

Gutierrez DH

Trumbo 1B

Miller SS

Taylor 2B

Zunino C

 

Happ LHP

 

TWINS

 

Dozier 2B

Hicks CF

Mauer 1B

Sano 3B

Hunter RF

Rosario LF

Escobar DH

Suzuki C

Polanco SS

 

Hughes RHP

Final, 7/30 R H E
Seattle 46-57 5 11 1
Minnesota 53-48 9 13 1

Today's Scoreboard

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  • Washington

    Miami

     

    - F

    1

    0

  • San Diego

    NY Mets

     

    - F

    8

    7

  • Detroit

    Baltimore

     

    - F

    9

    8

  • Atlanta

    Philadelphia

     

    - F

    1

    4

  • Kansas City

    Toronto

     

    - F

    2

    5

  • Chicago White Sox

    Boston

     

    - F

    2

    8

  • Pittsburgh

    Cincinnati

     

    - F

    5

    15

  • Colorado

    St. Louis

     

    - F

    8

    9

  • NY Yankees

    Texas

     

    - F

    6

    7

  • LA Angels

    Houston

     

    - F

    0

    3

  • Chicago Cubs

    Milwaukee

     

    - F

    5

    2

  • Seattle

    Minnesota

     

    - F

    5

    9

  • Cleveland

    Oakland

     

    - F

    3

    1

  • Phoenix

    Tulsa

     

    - F

    78

    66

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