DETROIT — Torii Hunter has the third-most at-bats this season, behind only Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer. He’s also hot right now, having hit three home runs during the first five games of this road trip. But he’s almost 40, too.
That’s why Twins manager Paul Molitor made the difficult choice, he said, to leave Hunter out of the lineup as the Twins try to win this series today.
“It’s fun to play against your former team, obviously. But he’s been out there a lot,” Molitor said of the former Tiger, whose six homers and 21 RBIs lead the Twins. “He’s got a lot of at-bats, and it’s not even mid-May yet, not quite. I’m just trying to back him off, and it makes sense today.”
That’s because Anibal Sanchez is on the mound for Detroit, and Hunter is 2-for-13 in his career against the Tigers righthander. Molitor has put together a lineup with six left-handed or switch-hitters against Sanchez, in hopes of changing the Twins’ history against him.
Sanchez owns a 2.47 ERA in 11 career starts against the Twins, shut them out on three hits over 6 2/3 innings on April 8, and gave up three runs in seven innings on April 28, a game the Twins won. Those numbers mean a lot more to Molitor than Sanchez’s surprising 2-4, 5.44 start to the season.
“We see that there have been some teams that found a way to put some numbers against him,” Molitor said. “We haven’t been one of them.”
The key will be patience, Molitor said. “He is a smart guy out there. He realizes when he’s facing hitters [who are] especially a little short on the experience level, he can get them to expand the [strike] zone. I’m hoping our guys can bear down and try to make him throw strikes today,” the manager said. “It’s tough because he’s got that really good off-speed pitch, and he can throw hard enough to keep you feeling like you’ve got to speed up every now and then.”
With Hunter out of the lineup, Kurt Suzuki will celebrate his 1,000th career game by batting second, with Eduardo Escobar moving up to fifth. The Tigers are making a similar move, giving veteran designated hitter Victor Martinez the afternoon off. Here are today’s lineups as the Twins try to leave Detroit in a tie for second place:
J.D. Martinez DH