WASHINGTON – To a pitcher trying to escape a rally without any more damage, Pedro Florimon’s spectacular glovework was the most impressive part of his day Thursday.
“Florimon made a pretty good play on [Billy] Butler, a couple of times,” said an appreciative Mike Pelfrey. “He really helped bail me out.”
But to a manager, the best skill that Florimon displayed probably wasn’t with his glove, his feet or his throwing arm. It was his brain.
Florimon learned from his mistakes Wednesday, and displayed that knowledge a day later, just a few hours after Ron Gardenhire explained how Florimon was learning situational thinking.
“It’s just knowing the runner,” Gardenhire said.
The day before, on a similar play also against Butler, “he tried to do a little bit too much.”
Butler, the Royals’ designated hitter, is the slowest runner in Kansas City’s lineup, yet Florimon resorted to a barehanded grab-and-throw to try to retire him in the fifth inning Tuesday. He couldn’t make the pickup cleanly, and Butler was awarded a hit.
“He didn’t have to barehand that ball,” Gardenhire said of the teaching moment. Butler is so slow, Florimon “should have gloved the ball. He probably would have got the runner out.”
A day later, after his usual give-and-take with his manager during batting practice, the 26-year-old Dominican shortstop was ready. Butler hit a sharp ground ball past Pelfrey in the fourth inning, and Florimon grabbed it as he ran toward right field, took the time to spin completely around, and retired him with an accurate throw.
Two innings later, after Pelfrey gave up the tying run, Florimon helped avoid further damage when Butler again drove a hot grounder up the middle. This time, Florimon stretched out and dived for the ball, then bounced up and made a strong throw to get him by a step.
“He’s been right on,” Gardenhire said. “He’s been in the right spots on relays. He’s made the plays he’s supposed to, with some spectacular ones also.”
Gardenhire wasn’t certain about Florimon when he made the Dominican the Twins’ seventh consecutive different Opening Day shortstop, and Florimon didn’t help matters by committing three throwing errors in his first eight games. But after committing his fourth error April 26, Florimon appeared in 40 consecutive error-free games, until bobbling a ground ball Wednesday that led to three unearned runs.
“He babalooied a ball, but that doesn’t happen very much,” Gardenhire said. “He’s been great. He’s been fantastic.”
Gardenhire, himself a middle infielder during his playing career, has made the Twins’ double-play combination a daily focus this season, hitting ground balls each day during batting practice to Florimon.
“He works really hard,” Gardenhire said, “and that’s half the battle.”
The manager has worked with the shortstop on improving his footwork, especially on balls to his left.
“He’s always been comfortable going into the hole toward third base. But up the middle, I thought he didn’t get his body turned just right — he would start trying to shuffle rather than just go ahead and make the play,” Gardenhire said. “And he’s gotten better at that. [When] he starts trying to shuffle too much, his hands get jammed up a little. But he’s really worked on that. Using one hand [on plays] up the middle, it’s gotten a little bit easier.”