SEATTLE – James Paxton’s performance Friday, holding the Twins to one run over seven innings, was exceptional. But it also continued a trend that’s a bit alarming for the Twins: lefthanded starting pitchers clamping down on the Twins lineup.
Paxton was the seventh lefthanded starter the Twins faced in May, and Saturday’s starter, Wade LeBlanc, was the eighth (he also started at Target Field on May 14). Though the Twins battered the first one — former teammate Hector Santiago, who gave up eight runs in 3⅓ innings — the past seven have, to varying degrees, had much success quieting the Twins lineup. In 40⅔ innings, the six lefthanders have a 2.21 ERA, giving up a total of 10 runs. They have given up only three Twins home runs.
“I know we’ve had trouble. The irony is that our lefthanded hitters [Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario in particular] are hitting them pretty good,” manager Paul Molitor said Saturday, before the Twins scored two runs in six innings off LeBlanc. “But I don’t think we’re particularly vulnerable to it. I was actually more concerned earlier in the year, when we were running five lefthanders out there in our lineup.”
Brian Dozier, hitting only .229 in May, agreed that it’s probably just a fluke, and one that will change with the return of Miguel Sano and the eventual health of Byron Buxton.
Brian Dozier, hitting only .226 in May, agreed that it’s probably just a fluke, and one that will change with the return of Miguel Sano and the eventual health of Byron Buxton.
“We’ve been missing a couple of righthanded bats. That’s no excuse, but it’s an explanation,” Dozier said. “Miggy will help. Buxton’s going through some things with his foot [a fractured toe], but that’s what competitors do — they don’t take days off. We know he’ll be OK [at the plate] when he’s back to 100 percent.”
Molitor doesn’t anticipate making any big changes to his lineup against lefthanders. “It’s been problematic so far,” he said, “but there’s reason to believe we’ll be better as the season proceeds.”
Strikeouts pile up
Buxton and Sano went a combined 0-for-7 Friday, with Buxton striking out twice and Sano three times. It was the 20th game of the 21 that Sano has played this year in which he struck out at least once. But Sano also hit a long fly ball to right field in the seventh inning that Mitch Haniger caught up against the fence.
“I thought his hands were fresh, and he had some good swings. Fouled a couple pitches off — at 97 [mph], that’s not so easy,” Molitor said. “But kind of what we’ve seen in the past — good at-bats, struck out a few times on nasty pitches, and just missed that ball to right.”
For Buxton, the strikeouts continued a confounding trend, almost mathematically impossible: They both came on 1-2 counts, meaning that Buxton is now 0-for-29, with 19 strikeouts, on at-bats in which the count at some point reaches 1-2.
Still hanging out
Though he is kinda-sorta retired, Ichiro Suzuki still takes batting practice and runs the bases before every Mariners home game, and Molitor, who was the Mariners hitting coach in 2004, enjoys watching him.
“When I come in here, I certainly have memories of coaching him. I saw him have maybe one of his best years, setting the league record for hits,” Molitor said. “You can’t teach passion. There’s something about Ichi and what he feels when he gets out on the field and competes. He’s keeping himself ready, just in case.”
One of Molitor’s favorite memories was watching Ichiro unleash his home run stroke, which he rarely used during games.
“This is a big ballpark, but every day he would pepper those right field windows about 440 feet away from home plate,” Molitor said with a laugh.
Joe Mauer took batting practice in the Target Field cages. “It’s progress. We’re pleased,” Molitor said. “We’re trying to be smart. To hear he was in the cage today, was able to take some swings, was good. The intensity of his weight room work picked up.”
If Mauer continues to show no recurrence of the mild concussion symptoms he felt a week ago, Molitor said, “we’ll probably see him on the field back in Minneapolis on Wednesday, doing some work on the field with the idea of preparing him potentially for when we get back in town” on Thursday.