On the bus to the airport after Sunday’s game with the Royals, or perhaps on the flight back to Minneapolis, Rocco Baldelli and Derek Shelton will sit across from each other and begin to discuss, debate and contemplate the Twins lineup. Not for the team’s next game, Tuesday at Target Field. No, they will be figuring out who bats where and who plays what position when the Twins visit Oakland more than a week from now.
“We’re always at least five games ahead, that’s fair. And more often, at least a week,” said Shelton, the Twins bench coach for the past two seasons. “Our [planning] sheets have a whole week of lineups on them, and we’ve generally talked further ahead than that.”
That’s because Baldelli and Shelton are firm believers that the toll of playing 162 games in a 187-day season inevitably leads to less-than-peak results, and that regularly scheduled rest will pay off with tangibly better play over the course of the season. They put that belief in writing, on a week-at-a-time spreadsheet that designates at least one off day for nearly every player.
“Some guys have one a week, some guys have two. Some guys can go a little longer, but we’re trying to factor in a lot of different information. Who’s pitching [against us], who’s pitching for us, whether we have day games coming up. Health is the biggest [factor], and keeping guys fresh,” Shelton said. “Fatigue is an underrated factor in baseball.”
That’s why, while Baldelli holds a brief news conference after every game to discuss what just happened, Shelton makes the rounds of the clubhouse, checking on players’ health and fatigue level. Then the pair meet in the manager’s office to finalize the next day’s lineup and brainstorm the next week’s.
“I’m somebody for him to bounce ideas off. I share my thoughts with him on certain things, and he sets them to paper,” Shelton said. “I don’t think there have been many times this year where we’ve actually disagreed. He kind of makes his out, and I make mine, and 90 percent of the time, we’re on the same page.”
In the interest of transparency, once the next day’s lineup is determined, Shelton texts it to the players.
“It’s nice to know ahead of time if you’re playing the next day,” said first baseman C.J. Cron. “I try to prepare the same way no matter what, but there’s probably a mental aspect to knowing you’re in there.”
Or not in there. Do players object to being told they’re being benched for a day?
“We’ve gotten pushback a few times from guys, like, ‘Hey, I really want to play tomorrow.’ And then we’ll have a conversation. Sometimes the explanation is, we really think this is best for your body. And there have been occasions where we’ve said, ‘All right, if you feel that good, OK. But you’re going to get the next day, or two days later, off,’ ” Shelton said. “I’m not saying you can talk your way into the lineup, but you can plead your case a little bit. We certainly listen to what the players think.”
And they generally stick to their schedule, no matter what happened the night before.
“We try not to be reactionary. We have good reasons for our plan, and try to stick to them,” Shelton said. So when Max Kepler homered three times at Cleveland, he was out of the lineup the next day, as scheduled. “We had a conversation with him, but he understood our reasons.”
No Twin has started more than Eddie Rosario’s 22 consecutive games last month; Kepler had a 20-game streak in the starting lineup, and Jorge Polanco 19 games. Baldelli has used 63 different lineups in the season’s first 74 games, and only two lineups more than once all year.
It’s a philosophy that’s much easier to institute given how well the Twins bench has played. Marwin Gonzalez, Mitch Garver, Willians Astudillo and Ehire Adrianza have all had stretches of excellent play.
“All of us want to play. We don’t want days off, don’t like sitting on the bench,” Cron said. “But we have a really deep team. And when you’re sitting, somebody else is playing, somebody who has just as good numbers, it seems like. So everyone is OK with it.”
Strikeout percentage of Twins third baseman Miguel Sano. Sano does not have enough plate appearances, but that percentage would lead major league baseball. His career percentage (36.7) is eighth worst in major league history. Here are this season’s top strikeout rates among qualifiers. (Entering Saturday. Source: fangraphs.com)
MLB K% Leaders
1. Wil Myers, San Diego35.5
2. Brandon Lowe, Tampa Bay35.0
3. Michael Chavis, Boston33.2
4. Rougned Odor, Texas31.9
5. Javier Baez, Chi. Cubs29.7
6. Leonys Martin, Cleveland29.5
7. Dom Santana, Seattle29.0
8. Steven Duggar, San Francisco28.8
9. Bryce Harper, Philadelphia28.7
10. Randal Grichuk, Toronto28.7
Phil Miller covers the Twins for the Star Tribune. Twitter: @MillerStrib