Even as the season dwindles, the Twins’ hitting gurus push their best all-around player to adapt and improve.
Brian Dozier can’t look left in the dugout without seeing two accomplished hitters who think he should more often look right.
“He’ll give me the stink-eye,” Twins hitting coach Tom Brunansky said.
Brunansky and Twins manager Paul Molitor have close relationships with Dozier. Both appreciate the way he has turned himself from an eighth-round draft pick to an All-Star. Both want to help him out of a slump during which he hit .206 in July, .216 in August and .195 in September before going 2-for-4 in Thursday night’s 6-3 loss to Cleveland.
Brunansky and Molitor have urged Dozier to smash the occasional line drive to right field, to take away the outside pitches with which opponents have teased him for months.
Dozier has his own theories. “I go up there wanting to make it 1-0,” he said. “I think hitting the ball out to left is the best way to accomplish that.”
Dozier has made himself a key figure in the organization by becoming the most prolific
single-season home run producer in the history of Twins middle infielders.
He has hit 28 home runs this season. The second-best total? Roy Smalley hit 24 in 1979. Smaller also hit 19 in 1978. Dozier hit 23 last year. Zoilo Versalles hit 20 in 1964 and 19 in 1065. (Only home runs hit while playing a middle-infield position count toward the totals.)
“I don’t want to see him get away from his strengths,” Brunansky said. “I just think he can be adaptable, too, depending on the pitcher, the situation, the time of year.”
Wednesday night, Dozier faced reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber. Kluber threw Dozier a pitch toward the outside part of the strike zone. Usually, Dozier would try to hook that pitch toward left. This time he arced it into the right-field seats.
When Dozier returned to the dugout, Molitor put his whole body into a high-five.
“I was pretty fired up,” Molitor said. “I don’t show a lot of emotion in the dugout. I don’t even know how many balls he’s hit to right field this season.”
“In the air?” Molitor asked.
Just a guess.
“I thought that number might be a little high,” Molitor said with a smile.
Turns out Dozier has four hits to right field this season.
“You’re just not used to seeing that trajectory off his bat to right field that often,” Molitor said. “It crept up over the limestone there. I think everybody was happy to see it. He’s been pushing a little too hard. We all realize he’s been trying really hard.
“I don’t know if it’s going to affect what he does going forward. We all feel like he can be better than he is, and if you look at what he’s done he’s been phenomenal. But there are hits over there, once in a while.”
That’s what Brunansky tells Dozier all the time. “Yeah, there are hits over there,” Brunansky said. “Doz says there aren’t.”
Thursday afternoon, Dozier talked about pulling the ball. Thursday night, he nubbed an infield single to the second baseman in the first inning. That made him 3-for-25 in his first at-bats since Aug. 23, with two walks and eight strikeouts. In the third inning, he hit a fly ball to the warning track in right field.
Brunansky may be getting through to Dozier without Dozier realizing it.
“I set scoring 100 runs as a goal for Doz,” Brunansky said. “There are a lot of ways to get to that number.”
Dozier did it by hitting singles and doubles in Class AA in 2011, by hitting home runs last year, and is one run away from using that all-pull approach to reach 100 runs again this year.
Molitor and Brunansky think Dozier should be able to hit better than .240, should spend more time on bases without drastically reducing the number of times he jogs around them.
“Gotta stay with your strength,” Dozier said.