CHICAGO – Saturday’s game was only 10 pitches old when Aaron Hicks took off for second base. The throw from White Sox catcher Geovany Soto was off line, and Hicks was safe with his 11th steal of the season.
That relatively meager total actually now leads the Twins, whose 62 steals on the season mean they will likely finish with one of the franchise’s three lowest totals of the past 30 years. They rank 11th in the American League in stolen bases, and their steal success rate of 62.6 percent ranks 13th.
Those numbers don’t particularly make their manager happy, not after he declared in spring training that the running game, and containing opponents’ running game, would be a priority.
“Sometimes you take a risk when the situation calls for taking that risk, and if it doesn’t work out, I’m good with that,” said Paul Molitor, one of the highest-percentage base stealers in MLB history. “But our base stealing, if you’re going to use that as one of the foundations of being a good base running team, we can definitely get better.”
It’s not just stealing, of course, though this is shaping up as the first season in three decades in which the Twins won’t have anyone with 15 stolen bases. It’s avoiding mistakes on the base paths, moving up when it’s possible, going from first to third on a hit. And in those categories, Molitor is only mildly happy with his team’s performance.
“It’s kind of been a mixed bag this year. A lot of good things, but things we can definitely do better, too,” Molitor said. “I don’t know if anyone has had a really good year. … l don’t know if we have a model [base runner], one guy I would say is top-shelf.”
He notices mental mistakes far more than simple caught-stealing, he said. “Getting caught on a line drive with the bases loaded with nobody out. Tagging up at second base with one out when you should have been halfway, [then] you don’t score if the guy misses the ball,” Molitor said. “There are certain things that stick out that are fundamentally wrong. And that’s what I get concerned about.”
Molitor pointed to Hicks’ mistake in Friday’s game, in which was thrown out at third base to end the third inning after a ball bounced away from Chicago’s catcher, as an example of what he’s trying to teach. Already in scoring position, there was no reason to take the risk with two outs.
“Aaron’s mostly been good on the bases. That was one of those situations where they’re mostly reactionary, but they’re about preparation and anticipation and then reacting,” Molitor said. “When you’re on second base with two outs, one of your thoughts has to be, ‘I have to be 100 percent sure on a ball in the dirt.’ If you just react to a ball that’s borderline, you can cost yourself. … Those are some of the things you try to get the young guys to understand a little better.”
Hicks says he feels his base running has improved, and postgame tutorials like that one have been part of the reason why. “After every game, if something comes up, we have conversations about plays like that,” he said.
• Phil Hughes threw 40 pitches in the bullpen Saturday, and reported he feels normal as he prepares for his first start in five weeks, Tuesday against the Tigers. “No problems,” he said. “I should be all set.”
• Glen Perkins played catch at Target Field from distances up to 90 feet, Molitor said, and felt no tightness in his back. He will move on to a mound soon. “The fact that he’s improved enough to go out there and throw the ball around is a good sign,” Molitor said. “When he comes back and he’s healthy, we’ll find a way to have him contribute.”