TORONTO – Kurt Suzuki took the lineup card to the meeting with the umpires before Wednesday’s game. Mike Pelfrey warmed up with the position players, wearing Brian Dozier’s jersey and running sprints in the outfield. And Paul Molitor shuffled the top of the Twins’ lineup, moving Dozier down to No. 2, behind Aaron Hicks.
Yes, the Twins tried everything they could think of, superstitious and strategic alike, to break out of their slump Wednesday.
Most notable was the lineup change, which Molitor hinted at the previous night. Dozier entered Wednesday’s game in a 5-for-33 slump (.152) over his past eight games, and had struck out to lead off the game in five consecutive road games. Hicks had cooled off from last week’s hot streak in Target Field — he was 1-for-19 in his past five games, matter of fact — but Molitor said he decided after watching the Twins score seven runs in their past five games that something different was necessary, even if it’s only temporary.
“You try to balance [not] getting too crazy and still trying to make it look a little different,” the Twins manager said. “If you look at what Brian’s done, his body of work, he’s a very impactful guy at the top of the lineup. To take him out of there wasn’t an easy choice.”
Hicks said he wasn’t aware of the pending change, but he welcomed it. “It feels good. I’ve been hitting the ball pretty well, so to actually start producing, being at the top, of course I enjoy it,” he said. “I want to be there someday, but it’s a process.”
Hicks had only led off in one game this season, when Dozier was out of the lineup. But that was his normal job in the minor leagues, and he said he missed that duty. “It’s a different feeling, man, when you go to the field every day knowing you’re the leadoff hitter. You’re going to be the guy who sets it up for the rest of the team,” Hicks said. “Of course I miss it.”
The change might only be a one-day event, Molitor emphasized, especially since lefthander Mark Buehrle is on the mound Thursday. But it seemed to work Wednesday. Hicks singled to open the game. Dozier lined out, but the Twins scored three first-inning runs on an RBI single by Miguel Sano and a two-run double by Trevor Plouffe.
Byron Buxton’s sprained left thumb is healing so well, the Twins have sped up his timetable. Buxton, who has spent three days in Fort Myers batting in simulated games against full-speed pitching, will skip the couple of games the Twins had planned with their Class A team and go directly to Class AAA Rochester, perhaps as early as Friday, Molitor said.
“He’s doing well. I don’t know if I’d say he’s 100 percent, but he’s doing everything,” Molitor said.
Buxton could meet the Red Wings in Charlotte, N.C., for the weekend, then travel to Buffalo with them for five games, then play his first game in Rochester on Aug. 14. He can play 21 days on a rehab assignment before being activated.
Molitor and his coaches met after the game to discuss their pitching plans, specifically what to do about Tyler Duffey. Does he get another start, after allowing six runs in two innings on Wednesday? Do the Twins call up a different pitcher from Class AAA, say, someone like top prospect Jose Berrios?
More likely: The Twins have an off day Monday and could skip Duffey’s start. That would mean they wouldn’t need another starter until Saturday, Aug. 15. Even if they stick with Duffey until Tommy Milone is activated from the disabled list, they could choose to delay his start in order to match him up with the Indians rather than the Rangers, a far more potent offensive team.
Another decision: Should Duffey be returned to Class AAA Rochester, would the Twins use the interim to call up an offensive player? Or a bullpen arm, considering how much use their relievers have gotten in Toronto?
“We’ll probably sleep on it,” Molitor said, “and have some clarity tomorrow.”