Paul Molitor the manager anticipated the question like Paul Molitor the player anticipated sliders down and away.
He was ready when his pregame presser on Monday began with an inquiry about his attention-grabbing lineup.
“How much time do we have?” he responded.
One answer came over 2 hours, 47 minutes as the Twins mustered one extra-base hit but toppled the Royals with a six-run seventh inning on their way to a 7-1 victory.
Brian Dozier, coming off a 42-homer season, batted leadoff. Byron Buxton batted third for the first time in his career. Joe Mauer, with a .261 batting average and 11 home runs a year ago, batted cleanup for the first time since April 30, 2006.
It looks as if Professor Molitor is thumbing his nose at conventional lineup construction. But his method was not that outlandish.
The top three Twins last year in on-base-plus-slugging percentage were Robbie Grossman, Mauer, then Dozier. Weighted on-base average — a stat that attempts to measure an offensive player’s overall value — shows Grossman led the team at .370 last season, with Dozier next at .363. Grossman and Mauer were 1-2 in walk percentage.
So Molitor looked to group his most productive and best at-bat takers among the top four spots in the order.
“I’ve spent some time with our people and a lot of it on my own, just understanding that old school and new school philosophies about positions and lineups have changed,” Molitor said. “I’ve tried to incorporate that in some of the things I’m thinking about.”
Batting Dozier leadoff might be an abuse of his power, but Molitor had Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario batting seventh through ninth. If any of those three promising hitters reach base, Dozier has someone to drive in.
“It’s not like you bat this type of hitter here and that guy there,” Dozier said. “It’s how each individual is according their own style of game. I think it flowed well, especially against a guy like [Danny] Duffy.”
Mollie’s Nine showed its bite during the seventh inning Monday — with solid at-bats.
After Dozier was intentionally walked to load the bases, a walk to Grossman drove in the first run of the inning. Buxton struck out but Mauer walked, forcing in a second run. Things fell into place after that, and the Twins pulled away.
“Guys that can slow the game down with seeing multiple pitches,” Molitor said of his top grouping. “Those guys have a history of being able to do that. Robbie didn’t put the ball in play in five at-bats today.”
But Grossman had two of the Twins’ seven walks.
Putting Buxton in the third spot might be a reach Molitor will have to revisit. Buxton was 0-for-5 with three strikeouts Monday. Molitor admitted his use of Buxton in that spot is based more on his feelings about how the outfielder has progressed so far.
“Me and Mollie talked a lot about it,” Buxton said. “It’s going to take me getting more reps. This day was the first time in my career that I saw no fastballs in an at-bat. I still have a long way to go when it comes to grinding out those at-bats.”
Lineups evolve during a season as health, matchups and streakiness send managers back to the drawing board. Molitor will have a totally different lineup on Wednesday against Royals righthander Ian Kennedy. He won’t start four lefthanded hitters against a lefthanded pitcher, as he did against Duffy on Monday. Yes, Mauer will sit against some lefties, and Dozier likely won’t lead off against righties.
Then again, the Twins drew seven walks.
“It’s not going to be smooth sailing all the time,” Molitor said, “but if you don’t have confidence that they can handle those things, you wouldn’t be putting them in there from the start.”
La Velle E. Neal III has covered the Twins for the Star Tribune since 1998. Twitter: @LaVelleNeal. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org