DETROIT – Rajai Davis got a late jump on Kennys Vargas’ pop fly in the seventh inning Thursday, but he closed fast and made a sliding catch just before the ball reached the outfield grass.
Or did he? The play was close, and while replays seemed to confirm that Davis had gotten there just in time, they were blurry enough, and it was late enough in the game, for manager Paul Molitor to ask that the play be reviewed. But umpire Bill Welke’s call was upheld.
That’s just the second time this season, in the eight instances that Molitor has challenged a call, that the ruling wasn’t overturned, and it broke his streak of six straight overturns. It’s an above-average success rate, but Molitor says he takes no particular pride in the stat.
“It’s really in the hands of your video guy,” Molitor said. “It’s become trustworthy enough that you can pretty much go with what your guy is telling you.”
The Twins’ guy, as it was last year under Ron Gardenhire, is Sean Harlin, a Twins employee for 24 years. And he has learned with experience what is likely to be overturned by umpires watching on video monitors in New York.
“Gradually, it’s become clear that they are going to overturn only the obvious ones,” Harlin said. “The evidence has to be really explicit.”
Molitor likes the rule change that allows him to remain in the dugout while deciding whether to challenge a call, because it allows him to understand Harlin’s opinion better than a simple thumbs-up or -down. But mostly, he has gotten comfortable with trusting Harlin’s judgment — and even then understands that not every call will go his way.
“There have been some plays they’ve deemed inconclusive,” Molitor said, “where we’re not always sure they’re seeing the same thing we’re seeing.”
Eddie Guardado played 17 years in the major leagues, appeared in 908 games and came to the plate exactly once.
“I bunted,” Guardado said. “I bunted into a double play.”
Now he wields a bat almost every day. Though occasionally, it looks like it’s the other way around.
“He doesn’t have the best technique. I think he chokes up about 12 inches,” second baseman Brian Dozier said. “But he gets the job done.”
That job is fungo hitter, part of the daily rhythm of a game day. Guardado, in his first season as the Twins’ bullpen coach, grabs a bat and smacks ground balls, with varying success, to infielders on the left side during batting practice. His swing, as Trevor Plouffe puts it, is “pretty unsmooth.” He lunges at some baseballs and gets his body far out in front of others. He hits hot smashes, slow rollers and the occasional line drive.
“Sometimes he jams himself, and every once in awhile, they’ll just be liners,” said Plouffe, who spends the most time fielding Guardado’s efforts. “I get a bunch of different types of grounders, but that’s good. It’s good practice.”
And Guardado’s having a blast doing it, too.
“During the game, they’re not getting hit straight at them, are they?” he said with a laugh.
Molitor has suggested taking over the duty himself, but says: “Eddie’s pretty stubborn. I don’t know how many fungoes he’s hit in the past, but we let him go with it. He’s pretty entertaining.”
A break for Hunter
Molitor said Torii Hunter’s recent hot streak — he batted .444 (8-for-18) during the first five games of this road trip, with three home runs, two doubles, four walks and seven RBI — made it tempting to include him in the batting order Thursday, but he was swayed by another statistic to leave him out. Hunter entered Thursday third on the team in at-bats, “and it’s not even mid-May, not quite.” Molitor said he’s trying to be careful with the outfielder, who is two months short of his 40th birthday.