CHICAGO – Paul Molitor wanted to make sure Byron Buxton isn’t getting too discouraged by his slow start. He discovered he needn’t have worried.
“He was solid as can be. Unwavering, transparent, knows it’s been tough, [but] not discouraged,” the Twins manager said of his Saturday morning chat with Buxton. “I complimented him on his ability to separate the different phases of his game. Some young players have a little more trouble doing that. Maybe it makes him a little bit more determined to find a way.”
Molitor decided, though, to help Buxton find a way from a lower perch. After batting third in the order in the season’s first four games, Buxton hit seventh Saturday.
Did it work? Too early to tell. The center fielder hit the ball hard in his first at-bat in the 6-2 loss to the White Sox, but right at shortstop Tyler Anderson. Buxton dropped a looping line drive into left-center field in the fourth inning, and stretched it into a double. But he also struck out in his final two at-bats, a recurring theme. Buxton now has 13 strikeouts on the season, in 23 trips to the plate.
Buxton played a big role in the Twins’ 4-0 record start to the season — but only with his defense. At the plate, the third-year outfielder went hitless in his first 10 at-bats, collected his first single on a broken-bat dribbler, then went on another 0-for-8. He’s now 2-for-22, a .091 average with one walk.
“I still feel that it’s going to get going here. It’s just going to be an at-bat or two where he feels something,” Molitor said. “There’s no question he’s pressing a little bit here, and we all know how things are magnified early in the year. The reality is, a major league at-bat has pressure, I don’t care if you’re first, third, seventh, ninth. You’ve still got to find a way to have good at-bats.”
Hughes aiming low
Phil Hughes has always had one of baseball’s lowest ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratios, a fact that has never bothered him. Plenty of well-hit ground balls get through the infield, too, he reasoned.
Hughes has never posted a ratio higher than 0.59 grounders per fly ball in a season. The MLB average last season was 0.83, and the Cardinals managed to reach an almost equal number of grounders to fly balls.
But the veteran righthander said Saturday that he expects the number of grounders to climb this season.
“Just based on the fact that I’m throwing my changeup more,” Hughes said. “Mixing up my offspeed pitches, my curveballs more — it’s a better pitch to get ground balls. I don’t think you’re going to see the extreme fly ball numbers I’ve had in the past.”
Of course, he said that one day after a particularly extreme example. Hughes induced 16 fly balls and only four grounders, a 0.25 start to the season.
“It’s just the first game,” Hughes said. “It was cold. Kind of a fluky night.”
‘More than baseball’
Molitor, Brian Dozier and Kyle Gibson took part, via Skype, in the Arise With the Guys program Saturday morning. The Christian outreach event at Grace Church in Eden Prairie drew nearly 5,000 men and boys, Molitor said, to hear celebrities like Tony Dungy, Peyton Manning and Sam Bradford offer advice and guidance.
“It’s like a conference, a one-day retreat. It’s just guys coming together, getting to hear from sports figures and coaches, guys they can relate to, some different voices,” said Gibson, who also took part last year. “It’s a good opportunity for us to talk about more than baseball. They asked me a little bit about being a father and how it mixes with my job. and about dealing with failure last year and bouncing back.”