Mackey: Gardenhire wanted speed this offseason, and he got Ben Revere
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire made it clear prior to December's winter meetings that he wanted the front office to add more speed to his lineup.
Gardenhire was referring mostly to a middle infield previously occupied by J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson, so general manager Bill Smith and company obliged by replacing Hudson and Hardy with Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Alexi Casilla -- partially to inject speed, and partially to save money.
Well, it almost backfired. And it still might.
Casilla's on-base percentage dipped to .230 as late as May 14, and Nishioka's broken leg has kept him out since April 7. Their speedy backup, Matt Tolbert, has been solid in June (.730 OPS), but he owns .246 on-base percentage for the season.
Speed is useless if the players with wheels can't get on base.
Trevor Plouffe showed some pop, but he couldn't throw accurately to first base.
Meanwhile, Hardy has been one of the best-hitting shortstops in baseball so far, posting a .287/.363/.473 line for Baltimore, but he missed a month earlier in the year with an oblique strain.
Hudson, hitting a measly .217/.326/.278, is on his second DL stint in San Diego with a strained quad. He has basically been a non-factor.
Because Casilla revived himself by playing better defense and hitting .364/.425/.468 over his last 20 games, consider the tag team match a draw for now.
But when talking about speed this offseason, did anyone in the organization figure that outfielder Ben Revere would actually wind up being the star of the track meet?
"No, not really," Gardenhire said.
"Obviously we knew coming into spring training we wanted to see a little bit of him. We saw a lot of him in spring training. But with your outfield set like it was, with Delmon (Young), (Denard) Span and (Michael Cuddyer), and (Jason Kubel), your plan isn't to have him start with us because you know he needs at-bats."
As it turned out, Young landed on the disabled list in late-April with sore ribs, allowing Revere to get his feet wet in early May. And with Kubel (sprained foot) and Span (concussion) both currently sidelined, Revere has taken the opportunity to dive headfirst into the deep end of the pool.
So far he isn't sinking.
"Now I've got the nerves out," said Revere, who is hitting .292/.333/.313 with three stolen bases and nine runs scored in 11 games since being recalled a second time from Triple-A Rochester this season in early June. "Now I'm just going in there and playing my game like I've always been playing. Like I've been playing, having fun, like I've been playing summer ball in high school."
Along with holding his own at the plate and being a pest for opposing pitchers on the bases, Revere -- despite having a weak throwing arm -- has added some much-needed range to the Twins outfield. His brilliant diving catch to rob Rangers outfielder David Murphy of an extra-base hit on Saturday landed on highlight reels across the country.
"Very acrobatic, and he covered a lot of ground," Gardenhire said.
"And then the one in Oakland in foul territory (in May). I couldn't believe he got to that ball in Oakland. He came out of nowhere and he covered a lot of ground to make that ball in foul territory. I was kind of shocked that he caught that ball."
With several players expected to return from the disabled list over the next two weeks, the Twins will be faced with some difficult roster decisions. Gardenhire has hinted strongly that he will continue to write the best nine players into the lineup, and Revere is currently near the top of that list.
Gardenhire also smiles at the prospect of a Casilla-Revere-Span-Nishioka wrap-around, if everyone comes back healthy.
"Watching (Revere) get out there and play and the excitement that he brings, and that different little part of the game that we had a few years back, and we've kind of went the other way with the big boppers," said Gardenhire.
"So this is kind of what we talked about during the winter, absolutely -- speed and being able to go different routes when you're not hitting home runs."
The 38 home runs hit by the Twins are the third-fewest in baseball, and the 246 runs are the seventh-fewest. But during the recent resurgence -- that just happens to coincide with Revere's call-up -- the Twins are scoring more than five runs per game.
The effort has been a collective one, but Revere's presence has been key, and he might wind up costing Jason Repko a roster spot. Revere could also take playing time from Young, who along with playing a choppy left field is still hitting just .246/.272/.316, despite a recent mini-surge.
"I think you see a kid like Ben Revere, and he's got that confidence, that little aura about him," Gardenhire said. "Even if he makes a mistake he still has that confidence about him that you know he's not afraid to admit it, but yet he's also one of these kids that listens. So that's a good trait, to be able to sit down and talk with him about a mistake he made.
"Rather than him try to give his side of it, he just drops a 'yes, sir, I understand,' and you go about your business with him. I like that. He's not afraid to take a little criticism, but it doesn't affect the way he goes out and plays the game. He continues to get after it and doesn't back away from anything, which is really something that you need in this game."
Revere will be back at the top of the lineup Tuesday against the Chicago White Sox as the Twins look to continue chopping away in the American League Central.
"It's a lot of fun," he said. "Hopefully I can keep it up. That's what a lot of guys say, they feed off me. Usually I get going and that's when the firecrackers start going."