With the Twins set to start the second half of the season with a three-game homestand against the Indians on Friday, second baseman Brian Dozier was asked what has changed for the team over the past month.

The Twins sat at 18-43 following a 15-4 loss to the Red Sox on June 11, and since then have gone 14-13. They were especially hot right before the All-Star break, winning seven out of nine, including five victories over the Texas Rangers, the best team in the AL.

Dozier said the reasons for the turnaround are easy to see, but he doesn’t know why it took so long for the Twins to start playing competitive baseball.

“I hate that it has taken three months into the season, but everything has been clicking on all cylinders,” he said. “We’re getting good starting pitching going deep into ballgames to save our bullpen, swinging the bats especially well, and when you do those two things, you win a lot of games.”

The Twins’ turnaround has coincided with Dozier’s improvement, which followed a tough second half last season after being named an All-Star.

He was hitting only .199 with a .288 on-base percentage, .318 slugging percentage, four home runs, 14 RBI and 18 runs scored through his first 40 games this season. The Twins were sitting at 11-34 at that time, but then things started to click.

Dozier has hit .290 with a .378 on-base percentage, .574 slugging percentage, 10 home runs, 29 RBI and 29 runs scored through the Twins’ past 43 games, and the team has been a much more competitive 21-22 during that stretch.

He was asked if that kind of turnaround can help breed confidence in himself and the rest of the team.

“We try to be very optimistic,” Dozier said. “It was a tough first couple of months for us, obviously, getting so far behind in the standings and that kind of stuff. But it’s the big leagues and we still have a lot of motivation and we still came to the ballpark ready to play and be very optimistic.

“I just think that it has taken this long and we’re this far out, I guess in the division, that we’re finally starting to click on all cylinders.”

 

Finding the positives

Dozier said the Twins pitching staff has clearly performed better of late, with righthander Ervin Santana leading the way.

“I know he got off to a rocky start or whatever, but his last four or five starts you’re starting to see the real Ervin Santana, which is pretty dominant, to be honest with you,” Dozier said. “When you have a pitching staff that is going six, seven, eight innings, the way we have the past seven or eight starts, that obviously gives us a better chance to win but also saves our bullpen. We don’t have to be bringing in a guy in the fifth inning or use up about four or five arms out there like we did the first two months. So all around, our pitching staff has been pretty dang good lately.”

Perhaps no starter has improved as much as Santana, who was 1-7 with a 5.10 ERA and only 49 strikeouts in 65⅓ innings through his first 12 starts. But he finished the first half going 2-0 over four starts with a 1.63 ERA and 19 strikeouts, giving up only 17 hits over 27⅔ innings.

Santana also posted the best Twins’ pitching performance of the season in his most recent start, a complete-game, two-hit shutout with eight strikeouts in a 4-0 victory over Oakland on July 6. ESPN currently ranks that game as the eighth-best start by any pitcher in baseball this season.

There’s no doubt that if the Twins are to have any continued success in the second half, they will need veterans such as Santana and Dozier to act as catalysts.

But Dozier also said the improved play of younger players such as Miguel Sano, Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario continues to be a real positive.

“We’ve been having a lot of youth on our team and you look at some of the guys like Rosario, Sano, Kepler and a few others, they still have a long way to go, which is a good thing,” Dozier said. “They’re learning, they’re producing right now the past couple of weeks, which is great to see, but the biggest thing is they’re all ears. They’re all willing to learn and listen and some of their weaknesses that get exposed, they try to make better. That’s big.”

 

U does Smith wrong

A great injustice was done Thursday when University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler fired Pat Smith, who had been the physician for the Gophers football team for 31 years.

Smith said no reason was given to him about why he was fired and he couldn’t understand it. Smith also said football coach Tracy Claeys and athletic director Mark Coyle wanted to keep him.

The president couldn’t be reached for comment and didn’t release a statement.

The new football physician is reported to be Joel Boyd, the former Vikings head physician.

To my knowledge, Smith never had a player who couldn’t return from injury to play after an operation. Kaler made a big mistake because this guy was great for morale and loved by all the football players.

 

Jottings

• A number of Rochester Red Wings played in the Triple-A All-Star Game on Wednesday. Jason Wheeler started the game and gave up two runs on two hits. Jose Berrios pitched the fourth inning, giving up a hit and striking out one. Jorge Polanco started at second and played the whole game, going 2-for-3 with a double. … Byung Ho Park on Thursday hit his first home run since being sent to the minors, helping the host Red Wings beat Norfolk 6-2.

• The Gophers cross-country team should have a great home season this year, which kicks off at Les Bolstad Golf Course with the Oz Memorial on Sept. 9 and is followed by the Roy Griak Invitational on Sept. 24. The Gophers will play host to the Big Ten cross-country championships for the first time since 2005 on Oct. 30.

• While the Wolves’ biggest splash in Summer League was the early play of rookie guard Kris Dunn, the Wolves have to be pleased with how well Tyus Jones has played, including recording 26 points and 10 assists in their 89-85 victory over Memphis on Thursday. Jones is averaging 17.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 6.0 assists in 32.2 minutes per game.

• In 14 first-half appearances with the Twins, reliever Casey Fien posted a 7.90 ERA with 12 earned runs and 12 strikeouts in 13⅔ innings. In 19 first-half appearances with the Dodgers after the Twins cut him, Fien has a 2.49 ERA with 19 strikeouts and only six earned runs in 21⅔ innings.

• While the Gophers had a good showing in the Division I Learfield Director’s Cup, finishing fourth out of all Big Ten teams, St. Thomas did even better in the Division III rankings, finishing ninth nationally and first in the MIAC.

 

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com