DETROIT – Brian Dozier hit 42 home runs last season, but only three in April and two in May. So there was no urgency about getting his first one of 2017, no what’s-wrong-with-Dozier speculation about his seven homer-free games to start the season.
“I’m sure he was a little anxious to get that first one,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “It kind of lingers in the back of your mind, especially coming off 42.”
Dozier doesn’t agree that he had been concerned about that zero, but now it’s a moot point. The four-time Twins home run leader belted a 2-1 fastball from Michael Fulmer more than 400 feet to the flagpole in center field, his first home run of the season.
“He just left it in the middle. I don’t think that’s where he wanted it,” Dozier said. “I was just trying to battle.”
The fact that the homer came in the game’s first at-bat was significant, too. It was the 20th time Dozier had led off a game with a home run, tying him with Jacque Jones, now assistant hitting coach with the Nationals, for most in Twins history.
“That’s pretty cool. He was a heck of a leadoff hitter,” Dozier said. “He was a heck of a player all around.”
Dozier is a long way from the major league record, of course — Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson, a former teammate of Molitor, had 81. But the ones Dozier has are meaningful, he said, because he’s noticed leadoff home runs might have a carryover effect.
“First of all, percentages say the team that scores first wins more often,” Dozier said. “And hitting them on the road kind of puts the opposing pitchers in defensive mode.”
Time to regroup
Byron Buxton played Wednesday, but just barely. When Jorge Polanco and Jason Castro walked in the ninth inning, Molitor had Buxton replace Castro, who represented the tying run. But the game ended without Buxton getting to use his speed.
That speed, and his remarkable defensive ability, have kept Buxton in the lineup this season, despite his ineffectiveness at the plate. But after Buxton looked at called third strikes three times Tuesday, Molitor decide the time had come for a break. Buxton was not in the starting lineup for the first time in 2017.
“We’re going to back him off today and give him a chance to maybe slow the game down a little bit by watching,” Molitor said. “We’ll get some other people in there who we thought had a good opportunity to have some good at-bats.”
Buxton hasn’t had many of those. With only two hits and a walk in 30 plate appearances, the 23-year-old outfielder has an .069 batting average with 17 strikeouts.
“I’m sure he’ll be disappointed, but given how things have gone, it seemed like a good day to back him off,” Molitor said. Eddie Rosario moved from left to center, with Danny Santana in left field.
Speaking of lineups, Polanco checked on it as soon as he arrived at Comerica Park on Wednesday. “I never know where I’m going to be,” the shortstop explained. “Wherever it is, I have to be ready.”
Polanco has batted third, fifth, sixth and seventh this season, and that’s come as a surprise not only to Polanco, but to Molitor, who makes those lineups.
“You’re never sure what the right combinations are going to be,” Molitor said. “I’ve talked to all those guys. We’re going to have to try to be open-minded about how lineups go from time to time. You might find yourself anywhere from, who knows, second to eighth on a given day.”
Actually, Polanco has now started at least two Twins games during his career at every lineup spot but cleanup. “I like it,” Polanco said. “It doesn’t change what I do. But I like to see where I’ll be [each day].”