Eduardo Escobar knew it the moment he let the ball go.
“It was a bad throw. I thought, ‘That ball is going nowhere [good],’ ” the Twins utility infielder said of his off-target, short-hop relay from third base in the ninth inning Thursday. “But Joe [Mauer] was able to dig it out. It was a good play.”
A potential game-saver, considering the tying run was on base for Colorado. It’s one of several that Mauer has made this season, already shaping up as his best as an infielder.
“He’s playing some Gold Glove-type first base,” Escobar said.
Not bad for a 34-year-old former catcher, but the statistics bear out Mauer’s improvement. According to FanGraphs’ Ultimate Zone Rating, Mauer is 2.4 runs better than an average first baseman. That’s already easily the best mark since he moved to the position in 2014, and it leads the American League. Only San Francisco’s Brandon Belt and Cincinnati’s Joey Votto have been better in 2017.
The numbers jibe with Paul Molitor’s observations.
“He’s always had incredibly soft hands as an infielder. His range is partly due to his length — he seems to be able to get to that [first-base] line even when he’s not playing on it,” the Twins manager said. “I’ve seen him make plays coming off the base in the three-hole. It’s one of those stretches where, whatever has been required at the position, he’s done at a really high level.”
And in particular, Mauer has been near-perfect in snagging errant throws, remarkable considering the Twins’ relatively inexperienced infielders on the left side. Third baseman Miguel Sano has three errors and shortstop Jorge Polanco has two, “and I don’t know how many Joe has saved them,” Molitor said. “You’re supposed to be able to pick the ball out of the dirt, but I don’t think he’s missed one. Even some ones that have been really tough — they throw with side spin, they hit the cut of the grass, they skim low, they skim high, and he just seems to be able to corral those throws.”
Throws like Escobar’s — “That was pretty fun for me to catch that one in a big situation,” Mauer said — or Polanco’s on Friday. Mauer jumped off first base to catch the shortstop’s wide throw in the third inning, spinning to tag Kansas City’s Lorenzo Cain.
“He’s playing a great first base,” Polanco said. “He gives me the confidence that wherever I throw the ball, he’s going to be there.”
Adalberto Mejia is in the Twin Cities, ready to be activated to pitch Saturday, but as usual with the Twins rotation, nothing is that simple. Another long, soaking rainstorm is in the forecast, too, raising the possibility of the Twins’ fifth rainout of 2017.
But that would give the Twins some options, depending upon when the game is made up. Molitor said he would be OK with a Sunday doubleheader, in which case Mejia could be designated as the 26th player, eligible to play only in the makeup game, without sending a player to Rochester. Or, if the teams choose to make it up when the Royals return on Labor Day weekend, the Twins could simply send Mejia back to Class AAA Rochester. Or they could keep him here to pitch Monday in Baltimore, rather than allow Adam Wilk to make the start.
“It’s all still undecided, that’s all I can tell you,” Molitor said.
• Pitching coach Neil Allen missed Friday’s game to attend his son Bobby’s high school graduation in Sarasota, Fla.
• Australian lefthander Lewis Thorpe, one of the Twins’ top pitching prospects until undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery, gave up one run and two hits while striking out three in four innings Friday for Class A Fort Myers, his first appearance in a game since Aug. 31, 2014.