When Brian Dozier watches highlights of Shohei Ohtani, the Angels rookie who pitched six solid innings last Sunday to beat the Athletics, then homered as Los Angeles’ DH on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, he is reminded of … Drew Butera?
Wait, better let him tell it.
“Remember when Drew Butera came in to pitch in Milwaukee?” Dozier said of a 2012 blowout loss to the Brewers in which the then-Twins’ backup catcher, now with the Royals, took the mound for the ninth inning to preserve the bullpen. “He has a cannon, and he was sitting at like 92 [miles per hour] with ease. Easy cheese, and he could hit 94, 95. There are guys out there who could play both ways if given the chance.”
It’s debatable whether there are many players who could deliver star-level performances in both disciplines like the Angels believe Ohtani will; Butera, after all, is a career backup, not an All-Star. But the notion of a true two-way player was a common topic in the Twins clubhouse last week, and Ohtani’s challenge clearly intrigues his peers around the game. “I can imagine it,” Twins slugger Logan Morrison said, “because I’ve wanted to do it.”
There are instances of players who have given up one side to try the other; new Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman, for instance, was an overwhelmed middle infielder for the first two years of his pro career before turning himself into one of the greatest closers in history, and former Cardinal Rick Ankiel enjoyed a seven-year career as an outfielder after his promising pitching career was derailed by control problems.
Dozier drew a walk against his former Twins teammate, outfielder-turned-pitcher Jordan Schafer, during a spring training game against St. Louis in February, and the Twins considered using the overall No. 1 pick last June on Brendan McKay, a Louisville star now both pitching and playing first base in the Rays system.
Two-way players are obviously rare, and there’s a reason.
“We’re talking about some of the best athletes in the world. You can’t tell me there aren’t guys who could do it. There are guys in this clubhouse who probably could,” Dozier said. “But 162 games is so strenuous, there’s so much wear and tear on your mind and body, that adding to [your workload] is going to take a toll on your game. And there’s too much at stake for that.”
In other words, being a star at one position is far more beneficial, competitively and financially, than being less than that at more than one.
Morrison was a part-time pitcher when he was a kid. “Most major leaguers were — the best players pitch and play short” before focusing on their biggest strengths, he said. “I had a pretty good curveball.”
He stopped throwing it, though, when his power potential became evident. The division of time is the biggest barrier to an Ohtani feat, Morrison believes.
“Just seeing the work the pitchers put in, to be able to do something like that, a lot of your focus would have to be put on pitching. Then whatever extra time you have would be like, go to the cage,” Morrison theorized. “If you can hit, you can hit. Pitchers sort of have to develop [their skills], even if they throw hard.”
So would the Twins ever pursue a two-way player? “We tried to get that two-way player,” Molitor said, referring to the Twins’ fruitless pursuit of Ohtani. The Angels’ six-man rotation and off days around Ohtani’s DH appearances have caught his attention. “You can’t help but think about what it would be like to figure out what would be best for him and for the team to use his skill set at both,” Molitor said. “He’s got a chance to be something special.”
Even opposing players seem to be rooting for him. “If he can sustain both and be successful at both, it’s going to be a beautiful thing for the game,” Dozier said. “It’ll be so much fun to watch.”
The Twins play 76 games against AL Central foes, so they will quickly become familiar faces. But each team has someone who’s familiar already to Twins fans. A quick rundown:
Indians: After the Twins traded closer Brandon Kintzler, Matt Belisle saved nine games in 11 chances down the stretch last year. The Twins let him walk away at season’s end, and after signing a minor league deal, Belisle earned a spot in the Cleveland bullpen. The righthander has pitched three scoreless innings, retiring nine of 11 batters.
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Royals: Another veteran who quietly did good work for one year (2015) in the Twins bullpen, Blaine Boyer is now on his fifth team in five seasons. This time it’s Kansas City, where Boyer — whose performance slipped (4.35 ERA) with Boston in 2017 — gave up runs in each of his first two games before pitching around a hit and a walk in a scoreless inning Saturday.
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Tigers: Most of the ex-Twins are in the dugout, where Ron Gardenhire hired Minnesota alumni Rick Anderson, Steve Liddle and Joe Vavra for his coaching staff. But Niko Goodrum, the Twins’ second-round draftee in 2010 who went 1-for-17 in a September callup last year, made the Tigers as a utility infielder after a strong spring.
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White Sox: After going 0-6 with a 9.67 ERA in a seven-start stretch last year, then publicly questioning his removal by manager Paul Molitor in July, lefthander Hector Santiago never pitched for the Twins again. He has resurrected his career as a long reliever in Chicago, where he pitched from 2011 to ’13.
Though the Twins were losing when Kyle Gibson was lifted from Thursday’s game, they eventually rallied to win. That marked their 10th consecutive victory when Gibson started (he has been credited with seven of the wins), one of the longest streaks of success in franchise history. Consecutive Twins victroies, by starter, with their record in parentheses:
14 Johan Santana (13-0), July 17-Sept. 24, 2004
12 Johan Santana (9-0), July 15-Sept. 10, 2006
12 Brad Radke (12-0), June 7-Aug. 4, 1997
10 Kyle Gibson (7-0), Aug. 22, 2017-April 5, 2018
10 Kevin Tapani (9-0), July 21-Sept. 6, 1991
10 Jim Kaat (4-0), April 21-May 31, 1970
10 Luis Tiant (6-0), April 9-May 28, 1970
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Second baseman Brian Dozier, who has led the Twins in home runs for five consecutive seasons, entered Saturday tied for the AL lead, with four. That’s already more homers than he has ever had in any April of his career except one.
Year April Season
2013 0 18
2014 7 23
2015 2 28
2016 3 42
2017 2 34
2018 4 ?
Baseball reporters Phil Miller and La Velle E. Neal III will alternate weeks. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twins blogs: startribune.com/twins