Warne: Twins likely to make habit of running up opponent pitch counts
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins have run up the pitch count on two pretty good starters to start the season, and it's not exactly a coincidence.
Look at the top of the order, after all.
Aaron Hicks was 16th among all Double-A hitters (300-plus plate appearances) in walk rate last year, and in terms of raw numbers had the sixth most walks. And everyone knows what Joe Mauer brings to the table, namely the top on-base percentage in the major leagues last year.
But while these two hitters will likely give their teammates plenty of opportunities to pick up what the opposing starter has on that given day, their approaches seem to have proven infectious.
Entering Thursday's rubber game with the Tigers, there were six instances of Twins hitters seeing 20-plus pitches in the first two games -- Justin Morneau in both games, as well as Ryan Doumit and Chris Parmelee in the opener, and Josh Willingham and Mauer in game two. On six other occasions hitters saw 18 or 19 pitches. And this isn't just the usual suspects. Guys like No. 8 hitter Brian Dozier are working counts -- like he did in the minor leagues -- and getting deeper into at bats like one might expect out of a leadoff or No. 2 hitter. Even Pedro Florimon saw 12 pitches in his two plate appearances Wednesday.
In other words, these Twins aren't afraid to go deep into counts. In fact, it might be what sets the Twins apart. Through two games, the Twins had seen 337 pitches and only thrown 271.
Manager Ron Gardenhire seemed to suggest that it was less an organizational thing, and more of an individual thing. But he also lent some credence to in-game awareness.
"I think we have those types of players," Gardenhire said. "Hicks isn't afraid to take pitches. We know Joe Mauer is always going to take pitches. We have some pretty good veteran hitters. I don't know if we set that as a goal; we always tell everyone to get a good pitch and take a whack at it. If they make a mistake, you make them pay. But, they're not afraid to take pitches. Guys are always asking if they should take a pitch. Like constantly. So they're paying attention to the game."
GM Terry Ryan agrees to a point, simply suggesting that hitters are who they are, and aren't often modified but rather treated like finished -- though still capable of adjustments of course -- products.
"We have guys that are aggressive in their at bats, and we have guys who are overly patient," Ryan said. "I don't think you're going to change too many guys' habits. Obviously Hicks and Mauer up there take a lot; Morneau and Doumit for instance do not. It just depends on the batter."
Ryan added, "Everybody's got their own approach, and I think the wise thing is to say to a guy, "If you get a strike, go ahead. If you don't, alright." There's nothing wrong with a base on balls. That's all there is to it. Some guys have always had an approach where they're always willing to take, and some guys are the opposite. Different guys are very successful in different ways. Mauer has been very successful in his approach; he very rarely swings at the first pitch. Everyone knows that. He's pretty good."
Dozier will also be a hitter to watch in this respect, as he's said the game is moving at a pace he's more comfortable with this year compared to last. Dozier's minor league walk rates were typically in the high 8% and up (major league average last year was exactly 8%).
Dozier doesn't necessarily downplay the idea of working the count being a team ideology, but like Gardenhire in a sense, he emphasized an individual awareness on skill sets.
"Organization or not, from an individual standpoint you have to know what kind of hitter you are first and foremost," Dozier said. "But, I do think top to bottom we've done a good job the past two games to get the big strikeout guys out of the game pretty quick and got to the bullpen. If you can get to the bullpen, and make starters throw more pitches than they're supposed to, that's how you win ballgames."
It's not necessarily hard to find a common thread there. But whether it's allowing your comrades to see more pitches, getting to the bullpen more quickly, or simply knowing what you bring to the table, one thing remains clear: The faster a club can get a Justin Verlander or Anibal Sanchez out of the game, the better chance of winning on that given day.