Notebook: Brian Dozier's struggles land him a spot on the bench
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier found himself out of the lineup for the third time in four days Sunday, and it's not just because replacement Jamey Carroll was hitting .308/.368/.346 -- though it certainly doesn't hurt.
Dozier has claimed on a few occasions this season that the game is moving much slower for him in the big leagues compared to last year. But if that's the case, it sure isn't showing, as Dozier's hitting even worse in 2013 than he did in 2012.
In fact, among all qualified big-league regulars -- 3.1 plate appearances per team games played -- Dozier has the sixth-worst wOBA (weighted on-base average, scaled to OBP) in the major leagues at .242.
For a while it seemed as if Dozier had turned things around, right around the time he moved to the leadoff spot. But that just amounted to a four-game hot streak during which Dozier went 7-for-19 with three walks. Since those four games, Dozier has hit .183/.213/.254 with 18 strikeouts and only three walks.
As a result, the Twins -- specifically hitting coach Tom Brunansky -- are working on some mechanical things with the 26-year-old second baseman.
Manager Ron Gardenhire said that Dozier had been working on his swing in recent days. "Bruno had him making some adjustments yesterday, because we've been seeing the ball go up in the air too much," Gardenhire said.
Gardenhire continued: "It's just a technical thing here; he's got to keep his front side in and stay out and cover the ball. If he starts dipping a bit, his hands drop down, and that's when the bat goes on an upward plane, and he gets too much of the bottom half of the ball. He's got to keep those hands up, keep the front side in where he can stay on the ball and drive it to all fields."
And if Dozier doesn't improve, the Twins will be content to run Carroll out there at second as long as he holds up. Carroll has a vesting option for 2014 after 400 plate appearances, but the option is for only $2 million, a sum the Twins would be happy to pay if Carroll can continue to defy father time.
Road to recovery
Righthander Nick Blackburn has returned to Fort Myers to continue to rehab and build strength. He had been away with his wife, Alicia, as she gave birth to twins following a rocky pregnancy.
The Twins are pleased with Blackburn's healing process -- specifically that he's had no setbacks -- and the club is hoping he's two-to-three weeks away from getting on the mound. That puts him right around an early June timeline, and the club is hoping he can throw live batting practice or possibly get into competitive games at extended spring training at that time.
The extended program typically wraps up a few days before next month's amateur draft, so Blackburn will be on a bit of a tight schedule if he's to get action there. Blackburn was outrighted off the 40-man roster last August, and the Twins hold an $8 million option on him next year that will be declined.
Blackburn underwent wrist surgery last winter and had bone chips removed from his elbow in October.
A trouble spot
A second inning home run by Boston's Will Middlebrooks on Sunday continued to underscore the issues that Twins lefthander Pedro Hernandez has had with righthanded hitters. Entering play Sunday, righthanded hitters were batting .384/.446/.726 against Hernandez.
Among pitchers having thrown 10-plus innings, Hernandez' .489 wOBA allowed from righthanded hitters was easily the worst. The next worst? Brett Myers, who is laid up with arm issues while sporting a 10.80 ERA.
Gardenhire says it's just an instance of pitch sequencing, primarily the usage of his breaking ball.
"He's got to use all of his pitches," Gardenhire said. "I think he's got to use his curveball earlier in the game, and keep guys off balance. Being able to pitch hard in to righthanders is very important. But to keep them off of just sitting inside, he's got to throw that nice little breaking ball he's got. That'll keep them out in front of the ball, and will make everything else look firmer."
If Hernandez can't hang in the rotation, a move to the bullpen is no certainty. The Twins already have Brian Duensing filling the lefty specialist role out of the bullpen, and all indications are that the club is happy with the production out of the bullpen as a whole. That could make Hernandez an odd man out.
Odds and ends
* Kyle Gibson started Sunday at Lehigh Valley, and to say it went well would be an understatement. Gibson had a no-hitter for 7.2 innings, and ended up going the distance for a complete game three-hit shutout with eight strikeouts and two walks as Rochester cruised to an 11-0 win.
As for what the Twins were hoping to see out of Gibson in Sunday's start, Antony said he wanted to see more consistency and less nibbling out of the 25-year-old righty. "We'd like to see him have confidence in his stuff, and trust it," Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony said.
"He's got enough movement, he just has to not try to get too fine. His stuff is plenty good. He's going to have his ups and downs, but what we're most pleased with is that he's healthy. Now we're just looking for him to perform consistently, so that when the opportunity comes, he's in position to get his chance."
Suffice to say, Gibson gave the Twins brass an awful lot to think about with Sunday's gem.
* Entering play Sunday Oswaldo Arcia was mired in a 2 for 22 slump. That slump -- dating to May 10 -- dropped his batting line from .313/.353/.547 to .270/.330/.449.
According to Antony, Arcia's just in the middle of an adjustment period.
"Last night, I'll give him credit, he took three walks," Antony said. "He's trying not to chase the offspeed -- especially early in the count -- and if he does that, he might see some fastballs later in the count that he can do something with. That's part of the adjustments that all young players have to make. Pitchers saw what he could do with the fastball the first week he was up here. Then the scouting reports got out, and now it's his turn to make the adjustments."
* Since moving down in the batting order in mid-April, Aaron Hicks has hit .195/.308/.377 with 17 strikeouts and 13 walks. And while that doesn't seem like great shakes, it's leaps and bounds better than what he had put on tape to that point -- .047/.109/.047 with 20 strikeouts and three walks.
The perception here is that Darin Mastroianni's ankle injury has bought Hicks a bit more time to settle into his role, as the only other center field option is Wilkin Ramirez, and he's best when used sparingly at that spot. It would seem to stand to reason that Hicks will still need to do better than the .684 OPS he's compiled since mid-April to keep the job all year, though.
* Rochester outfielder Clete Thomas remained out of action Sunday because of a quadriceps injury. Thomas last played May 7 against the Toledo Mud Hens. "His quad is still bothering him," Antony said. "He's making some progress, but a few days ago it was a still a little tight." Thomas was originally expected to return last Monday, but the quad tightened up on him and the fear is that if he went out and re-aggravated the injury, he'd be back to square one, or even worse. It sounds as though he remains day-to-day.
* Drew Butera has been catching some bullpen sessions as he works back from a broken pinky finger that he suffered in his first Triple-A at bat this season. The Twins would like to get him some at-bats in extended spring training before the club will assign him to Rochester to join a catching corps which has featured Chris Herrmann and Eric Fryer.