FORT MYERS, FLA. – The Twins have been slow starters in recent seasons, but second baseman Brian Dozier believes he has a solution.
Apply more pressure.
He has seen teammates in spring training take extra bases, steal bases and use the bunt as a weapon. Dozier thinks the Twins can excel at that style of play and should not be afraid to carry it into the season.
“Challenge the other teams by attacking,” Dozier said. “In all aspects of the game. Right out of the gate.”
Some of that mindset was evident Thursday in the Twins’ 7-4 victory over Boston, their final spring game in Florida and their eighth win in a row. The Twins scored five runs in the seventh inning to erase a 4-2 deficit. During that inning, Danny Santana stole second, then went to third on an errant throw. Darin Mastroianni stole second and third — with Oswaldo Arcia, not known for his speed, swiping second when Mastroianni took third.
Twins manager Paul Molitor said some players will have the green light to steal bases. Rookie Byron Buxton, the fastest man on the team and perhaps in all of baseball, is learning the nuances of stealing bases but will get the green light at times.
Dozier has talked about being more aggressive throughout spring training, and it has to do with how the Twins started last season.
Everyone remembers their 1-6 start of a year ago and how it contributed to a 10-12 record in April. But it’s just the latest in their trend of digging themselves an early hole.
In four of the past five seasons, the Twins have finished April below .500. Over those five Aprils, they are 48-68, a .414 winning percentage. It was only last year that the Twins posted a winning record and challenged for a playoff berth.
The Twins enter 2016 with higher hopes, and they don’t want to make things harder on themselves by sleepwalking through another April.
“We were fighting uphill from the first day forward [last season],” General Manager Terry Ryan said. “That’s not any way to go about a season. Whatever we can do or whatever it takes for us to get off to a decent start, I’m all in.”
They broke camp Thursday believing that their 83-79 record last season was not because of luck and is something to build off. All the close losses from last year are magnified, so the slow start has been viewed as one reason they missed the playoffs.
“I think guys going through that beginning last year and then coming down to the last day — knowing that [slumps] happen at some point of the year — was a good experience,” first baseman Joe Mauer said. “Hopefully it doesn’t start out that way. I think it tells guys how important those first games are to get off to a good start.
“We missed [the wild card] by what, three games?”
When Molitor earlier in camp asked his players to use the bunt more, they responded with four bunt hits over the next week, including three by Santana.
The Twins have several hitters — Miguel Sano, Trevor Plouffe, Byung Ho Park — who can provide the long ball and are not known for stolen bases. But you don’t have to be fast to take an extra base when the opportunity comes. So Dozier’s mindset can be used by anyone.
The score will dictate how much stealing and bunting the Twins will do around the power hitters. But the Twins have had success with the approach during camp and want to force the issue once the regular season begins.
“I want everyone to be aggressive and attack,” Dozier said. “That brings out the best in us, as far as not being scared to fail and being openly aggressive.’’