Wetmore: 5 thoughts on Dozier's instincts, Phil Hughes is in the zone
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Phil Hughes continued his lights-out pitching run Wednesday, when he shut out the Padres as the Twins concluded an abbreviated sweep. The Padres have been shut out more than any other team in the Majors.
This column presents 5 thoughts from Wednesday'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. Jason Kubel stole a base. With two strikes and two outs against Aaron Hicks at the plate, Kubel took off for second and successfully stole his first bag since May 7, 2012. Before that? His most recent steal came April 16, 2011, when he was with the Twins the first time around.
2. Joe Mauer also stole a base, and then made a heads-up play running to third on the next hit. Trevor Plouffe hit a tapper towards third base in the sixth inning and Chase Headley had to charge in to the grass to field the ball. Ordinarily, a runner on second base would hold on any ball hit to the left side of the infield. It's a blanket rule. Except it's not true all the time, and Mauer alertly picked one of those times on this grounder.
The tapper brought Headley far enough in front of the baseline that he couldn't turn around and tag Mauer, so Mauer took off for third, knowing that he could beat the shortstop and a return throw to the bag. To boot, Plouffe was safe at first and Mauer scored the first run of the game on Chris Parmelee's sacrifice fly.
Mauer is faster than many people seem to think and he's an excellent base runner.
3. The Fox Sports North broadcast compared Mauer to Tony Gwynn during Wednesday's game.
So I'll compare Gwynn and Mauer.
Gwynn: .338/.388/.459 with a .370 weighted on-base average, 132 weighted runs created-plus.
He also had a 7.7 walk percentage and a 4.2 strikeout percentage.
Mauer: .322/.404/.465 with a .376 weighted on-base average, 133 weighted runs created-plus.
He also has a 12.2 walk percentage and an 11.4 strikeout percentage.
Different ways of achieving fairly similar numbers. Gwynn had more than 10,000 plate appearances, and racked up 3,141 hits in his career. Mauer, if you're wondering, has 1,457 career hits. So while Mauer's rate stats are similar, he's got a ways to go to catch Gwynn.
4. Trevor Plouffe blasted a ball to left-center field to add an insurance run in the eighth inning. Plouffe deserves credit this year for hitting the ball hard to all fields, rather than simply relying on pull power. When reliever Dale Thayer tried to go backdoor with a 3-2 fastball and the ball ran back over the plate, Plouffe took a whack and deposited the mistake into the outfield seats.
5. Brian Dozier turned a nice double play to end the eighth inning. With Seth Smith on first base and one out, setup man Casey Fien got Yonder Alonso to ground weakly towards the second baseman. Dozier charged in, but stopped when he got to the baseline. That put him in a good position to scoop the grounder, attempt to tag Smith, who was on his way to second. I don't know that he actually tagged Smith, but Dozier forced him out of the baseline and then still had time to relay the ball to Mauer at first for the double play.
The elegance of the play is hard to describe because involved an element of timing--Dozier slowed down to make the play work. If he charged further, he would not have been in position to tag Smith. And if he had chased Smith further out of the baseline, he may not have had time for the relay.
The former shortstop is drawing praise for his glove at second this season and last season. Deservedly so. Wednesday's double play seemed to me to be a play that takes either a great deal of instincts or experience at second base or both. It's not really similar to any play you'd see a shortstop asked to make.
Bonus thought: Phil Hughes is punishing the strike zone. Following his previous start, Hughes was fifth in the Majors in first strike percentage. He also threw more balls in the strike zone than all but one pitcher, and batters swung at his pitches more than they did against any other hurler.
Hughes threw 72 of his 94 pitches for strikes Wednesday. He struck out seven batters and walked nary a soul. That's the fifth consecutive start he hasn't walked a batter, a span of 147 batters in a row with a free pass.