BRADENTON, FLA. – Just as good hitting and strong pitching sometimes comes in streaks, so it is with fielding. At least, that’s what Paul Molitor is telling himself these days.
Minnesota committed four errors Saturday, giving Twins fielders 10 miscues in their past five games — and that’s not even the worst of it. At least four times this spring, Twins outfielders have gingerly tried to track down fly balls, then lost them in the glare of the Florida sun. It happened again Saturday, this time to rookie LaMonte Wade, who allowed a catchable fly ball sail over his head, and it turned what should have been a scoreless third inning into a two-run tiebreaker.
“The sun’s been a factor all spring. We’ve had a tough time,” Molitor said. “We’ve seen balls dropped on both sides, but we’ve definitely had our issues.”
Defense has been an issue all over the diamond this week, a discouraging trend only a week before the Twins leave Florida. Misplays have led to unearned runs — Jose Berrios gave up two on Friday, and Phil Hughes four on Saturday — and that doesn’t even count the balls lost in the sun that are scored as hits.
“Defense [Saturday] was not good. We’ve been having trouble on that side,” Molitor said. “It can go in spurts, especially individually. People can battle things, but you have to trust a little bit in what you’ve seen in the past. I don’t think it’s effort or concentration or any of those things.”
Most alarming is the seven errors shortstop Jorge Polanco has committed in 13 Grapefruit League games, mostly on errant throws. That’s as many as he made in August and September combined last season, and two more than any other MLB player this spring.
“We’ve seen some things that have kind of reminded us of last spring,” when Polanco also had trouble making clean throws, Molitor said. “He had a really good session [Friday] with [coach Gene Glynn] about finishing his throws, and then a couple just looked like he stopped his momentum and the ball didn’t carry. We saw enough progress last year to know it’s in there. But you just make a couple errors and start steering the ball.”
Getting right to work
Jake Cave arrived in his new home Saturday and went right to work. Cave, acquired from the Yankees in a trade Friday, met with Molitor in the morning, then caught the team bus to Bradenton with his name in the lineup as the starting center fielder.
Cave went 0-for-3 but took good at-bats, Molitor said.
“It’s definitely been definitely a weird week. I’m excited to be out on the field again,” said Cave, who will be given an opportunity, however brief, to compete for a spot as fourth outfielder, though he’s more likely headed to Class AAA Rochester. “It’s a change of scenery that’s going to help with my career. I love the guys over there [on] the Yankees, and I made friendships that I’ll probably have forever. But as far as a career standpoint for me and my family, there wasn’t anywhere for me to go over there.”
That’s because with Aaron Judge, Brett Gardner and new acquisition Giancarlo Stanton, the outfield in New York is full. It’s not much better in Minnesota, but Cave said he believes he can fit in behind the Twins’ trio of Byron Buxton, Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario.
If he hits anywhere close to the 20 homers he produced last season in the Yankees’ system, he’s probably right. His power surge — he hit 20 homers last year, with a .542 slugging percentage, after never before hitting more than eight in a season — is the result of a new approach, not mechanics, he said.
“I was trying to drive the ball [more]. In certain situations — two outs, nobody on — what’s a single up the middle going to do?” Cave explained. “A double or a home run might [help] the situation better. … I just want to drive the ball.”
Jake Odorizzi makes his first start in 11 days for the Twins, and will try to go five innings or throw 75 pitches against the Phillies and Aaron Nola at Hammond Stadium.