TAMPA, FLA. — When Edouard Julien saw a first-pitch slider from New York Yankees lefty Nestor Cortes, he lined the ball through the left side of the infield for a single.

It was just one spring training swing, but it was exactly what Julien spent the winter trying to do.

Julien had an impressive rookie season. He entrenched himself as the leadoff batter in the Twins' lineup. He made significant defensive improvements. The next step, he hopes, is earning more chances to hit left-handed pitching and becoming more of an everyday player.

He rarely started when the Twins faced a lefty pitcher, and he was often removed if the score was close against lefthanded relievers. The stats backed it up. Julien, a lefthanded hitter, produced a .196 batting average and only one extra-base hit in 48 plate appearances versus lefties last year.

One reason why Julien has trouble hitting lefties is his background as a switch hitter. In high school and in his first year at Auburn, he saw left-handed pitchers from the righty's batter box.

"This offseason was the first time where I attacked it," said Julien, who set up a pitching machine to feed him balls from the lefty angle, and he paid a left-handed pitcher in Montreal to throw him batting practice regularly. "I changed a couple of things in my swing to adjust to the slider and be able to hit the fastball against lefties."

Julien stopped switch hitting because his lefty swing was much better, and he felt he didn't see enough left-handed pitching to justify it.

When he faced lefthanded pitchers over the last couple years, he said, his front shoulder flew open during his swings. Learning to keep his shoulder straight should help him drive more balls toward left field, as he did against Cortes earlier this week.

"I had better numbers against lefties," said Julien, who had 12 hits in 33 at-bats against lefthanded pitchers in Class AAA last year with three homers, "then I got to the big leagues, and I never really faced them. When I would see them, it would be so awkward because I would see them once a month, which is nothing. A lot of [the toughest pitches], I didn't see it in the minor leagues. You just have to get used to it at this level, and hopefully, I get a chance this year just to prove that I can play against them."

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Julien won't be the first option to start against lefty pitching. The Twins have Kyle Farmer, a righthanded hitter who crushes lefties, to share time with Julien at second base. Julien still asked manager Rocco Baldelli to let him face as many lefties as possible during spring training.

As Julien showed with his defense last year, he will work diligently to shore up his weaknesses. He's always been a good fastball hitter, so he spent the winter trying to improve against curveballs and sliders.

One encouraging sign: Julien had a .294 batting average and a .455 on-base percentage in the postseason, when Toronto and Houston tried to exploit any holes in his swing.

"It just proved to me that my approach works with the best of them, and even though they are trying to do something with my weakness, I can work around that and put it to my strength," he said. "It was, for sure, a little confidence booster, and it was good to see that I had success in the playoffs, but it was a small sample size. I don't want to get my head too big."

The Twins underscored their belief in Julien with their willingness to trade Jorge Polanco. Julien isn't the type of player who sets many statistical goals for himself, but he is hoping to unlock another level of his potential.

"He's already a good offensive player," Baldelli said. "But as the league does adjust, you must also. That's the stage that he's at right now."