DUNEDIN, Fla. – Aaron Hicks has had a hit in each of his past two Grapefruit League games. And it’s only gotten him into trouble.
Hicks was removed in the fourth inning from Tuesday’s 5-3 victory over Toronto after making a mental mistake on the bases for the second straight day.
“We can’t have that,” manager Paul Molitor said after Hicks lost track of the number of outs while on base. “So we let him think about the game a little bit, and hopefully he’ll respond.”
The rest of the Twins responded well to facing R.A. Dickey, with Kennys Vargas and Eddie Rosario each smashing a home run out of Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. And Kyle Gibson was sharp in his three-inning start. But Molitor and his staff also had plenty of teaching moments, too, starting with their third-year center fielder.
Hicks looped a single into short left field with one out in the third inning against Dickey, then watched Eduardo Escobar pop out to the catcher for the second out. But the scoreboard still read one out, and when Eduardo Nunez lifted an inning-ending fly ball to right, Hicks went halfway to second base, paused, then headed back to first.
“Part of our baserunning [instruction] is, you can’t trust the scoreboard,” Molitor said.
After Toronto batted, he asked Hicks what happened as he came off the field, and Hicks, fighting to earn the Opening Day assignment in center field for the third straight year, admitted he was fooled by the scoreboard.
The mistake comes one day after Hicks was picked off, sort of, twice in one sequence by Pittsburgh in Bradenton. After a single, he left early on a steal attempt, but Pirates pitcher Angel Sanchez was startled into a balk. Then Hicks strayed too far off second base, anticipating a bunt that didn’t happen, and he was easily picked off by catcher Elias Diaz.
So Molitor decided to make his point more forcefully Tuesday. “Obviously, we’re trying to teach everybody about the importance of having awareness in the course of a game — being accountable, taking ownership,” he said. “I thought it was time to get him out of the game.”
Molitor and his staff have spent as much time teaching as evaluating during the first week of Grapefruit League play. At one between-inning moment Tuesday, hitting coach Tom Brunansky pulled aside Hicks as he came off the field, first-base coach Butch Davis did the same for a word with Rosario, and pitching coach Neil Allen demonstrated a leg-kick adjustment for pitcher Tim Stauffer.
“You try the best you can during your preparation to verbalize your teaching. But the game is the best teacher,” Molitor said. “So a lot of times, when things happen to reinforce something you might have said, you take it as a teaching opportunity. I’m trying to do that when I can, and I’m sure the staff is all doing that. And so you’ll see a lot of that. A lot of times, it’s so obvious you don’t even need to say it. The player should learn. But sometimes you need to make sure.”