Wetmore: 5 thoughts, Suzuki's value, Dozier's alertness, Buxton update
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MINNEAPOLIS - Phil Hughes had one blemish Sunday but the Twins beat the Orioles 5-2 to take two of three in the series and get within a game of .500. The blemish was another no-doubt-about-it home run off the bat off Nelson Cruz, an Achilles' heel of Hughes when he was with the Yankees.
Hughes didn't allow a walk, however, which continued a weekend-long trend for Minnesota. The Twins starters gave up one base on balls all series. Ricky Nolasco was the only starter to walk a batter and that came in his complete game loss Friday.
News update: Joe Mauer was pulled from Sunday's game in the third inning with lower back spasms. He said his back tightened up during batting practice and he couldn't get loose in the field. He said he is hoping to play Monday in Cleveland.
This column presents 5 thoughts from Sunday's game.
As always, feel free to ask any questions or make any observations in the comments. If you have a unique baseball observation during a game, feel free to share it with me on Twitter (@DerekWetmore).
1. Brian Dozier almost didn't need help getting around the bases in the fifth inning. Dozier walked to lead off the inning and then stole second base. With Jason Kubel at the plate three batters later, the Orioles had shifted their infield defense so that third baseman Manny Machado was playing in the middle of the left side of the infield.
Dozier didn't need an invitation.
With Miguel Gonzalez still on the rubber Dozier put his head down and took off for third, which he swiped cleanly for his team-leading 11th steal of the season. That was tied for the American League lead Sunday.
"They played the shift on Kubel. To be honest I have no idea what they were doing," Dozier said. "I could have almost reached out and touched [third base]. You don't play that far over. You're supposed to hang out a little bit closer to the bag to try and prevent that. I saw a chance; might as well take it."
Machado didn't move much closer to the bag after the steal, either. Dozier led off nearly halfway to home plate in the ensuing pitches. He said he strongly considered stealing home and maybe could have, given the freedom Baltimore allowed him. He said he had the green light to try it from manager Ron Gardenhire and third base coach Joe Vavra.
He opted not to gamble and eventually scored on a bases-loaded walk from Kurt Suzuki.
Dozier suggested the preparation on the base paths is drastically different from a season ago.
"Tell you what, [Paul Molitor] is doing a heck of a job before games - him and Joe [Vavra] - dissecting pitchers, knowing what counts to steal on, their tendencies and all that kind of stuff. It's been night and day compared to last year," Dozier said.
2. Suzuki's walk was his first of three RBIs and he has been excellent for the Twins this season. I still think it's a good idea to get Josmil Pinto's bat in the lineup every day, but Suzuki has far exceeded my expectations to this point.
Each of his four plate appearances Sunday had a positive outcome: single in the second, double in the fourth, bases-loaded walk in the fifth, and a two-out, two-RBI double in the seventh.
Supposedly signed for his glove and ability to call a game, Suzuki had batted .297/.375/.405 entering Sunday and he raised each of those marks in the series finale. He also leads Twins regulars in the rate at which he drives in runs. Suzuki has come to the plate with 76 runners on base this season and driven in 22 runs with just one home run, an RBI percentage of 27.63.
I don't think it's wise to rely on a month's worth of defensive metrics, but anecdotally, Suzuki has been exceptional behind the plate. Seemingly with regularity, he blocks pitches in the dirt that appear difficult.
"There's always some room for improvement," Suzuki said, grading his performance. "I feel there's room defensively: calling a game, getting to know the pitchers. It's always going to be a work in progress but it's been going OK."
Combine his work behind the plate with his impressive offensive numbers and he's been one of the most valuable Twins so far.
3. Phil Hughes isn't much of a swing-and-miss pitcher. He threw 94 pitches Sunday, and of his 65 strikes, he missed only eight bats. That's counting one whiff on a fourth-inning bunt attempt from Manny Machado.
Hughes said he wasn't working with his best arsenal, but that's typically the case for a starter. He said it's sometimes necessary to adjust to what pitches are working on a given day or in a given inning.
"A lot of times if I have my really good fastball going I'll get some swings and misses up in the zone. A day like [Sunday] where it's maybe just an OK fastball I'll still be able to get some popups when I miss up in the zone and stay aggressive up in the zone," Hughes said. "A game like today it's tough because I didn't feel I had my best fastball and I had a really awful cutter."
What wasn't working with the cutter?
"It just didn't have a feel. It was backing up all day long. I left a bunch over the plate," Hughes said. "I was actually pretty lucky to only get beat on that one that Cruz hit out. To be honest, I missed with probably 12 to 15 [cut fastballs]. Thankfully it didn't hurt us today and hopefully it'll be better next time."
4. Byron Buxton, in his first game of the season, went 0-for-4 Sunday with a pair of strikeouts for the Class-A Fort Myers Miracle. It's expected he'll be promoted to Double-A New Britain soon.
"He played his way out of [the Florida State League] last year," assistant GM Rob Antony said.
5. Pedro Florimon is a terrific fielder but at some point the Twins won't be able to tolerate the black hole he creates in the batting order.
The slick-fielding shortstop went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts Sunday, and now is batting .113/.191/.161 in 70 plate appearances this season. It's necessary, for comparison sake, to judge him by his peers, not by the league-average line as a whole.
Even by that reduced offensive standard, Florimon's production falls well short of the .245/.309/.363 batting line that all shortstops collectively have hit this season. For the statistically inclined, Florimon's Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) is a paltry .181 (league-average for a shortstop is .300). His Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) is 6, which means he's created runs at an incredible rate of just six percent of the league-wide average player. That's truly awful and has wiped out any positive gains his elite defense provides.
5(b). Eduardo Nunez, in his first full game back from a strained left oblique, went 3-for-5 as a DH for the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings. Assistant GM Rob Antony conceded Sunday that if Nunez had been healthy, he would have been considered for the extra roster spot rather than Danny Santana.
5(c). Chris Parmelee went 3-for-5 with two home runs and five RBIs Sunday for the Red Wings. But he's no longer on the 40-man roster and doesn't appear to be a good fit for the Twins roster right now.