Wetmore: 5 thoughts on Mauer's RBIs, running risks, Hicks' decision
MINNEAPOLIS - Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was ejected from Sunday's game, but the Twins rallied from behind to beat the White Sox, 6-5, and complete a rare four-game home sweep. The last time the franchise completed a four-game sweep of a series in which they trailed at some point in each game was in 1918 as the Senators, according to MLB Network.
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. Twincs ace Phil Hughes tossed a clunker Sunday. He lasted only five innings (87 pitches) and allowed five earned runs on eight hits. He's only allowed five earned runs in a start one other time since signing with the Twins this offseason. He pitched five innings in each of his first three starts this season, but until Sunday hadn't failed to get through the sixth inning since April 15.
It was a rare poor start for Hughes, who uncharacteristically got seven outs on the ground and just one in the air.
2. Hughes faced 23 batters and started off just 14 of those plate appearances with a strike. That's 61 percent, compared to his season rate of 71 percent. That's not to suggest it's the reason Hughes struggled--it's more likely a result of his struggles. Hughes didn't have his best control and so he didn't get ahead of batters with strike one as often as he typically does. And when you're working from behind in the count without your best stuff, the going gets tougher.
It's worth nothing that drop from his 2014 first-strike rate represents only two or three batters across 5 innings.
3. Joe Mauer went 2-for-4 and had another multiple-RBI game, his third in the past four games. Could he be rolling? It's too soon to say, but we'll see over the next few weeks. As noted in a recent 5 thoughts column, Mauer had just one multiple-RBI game in April and one in May, so three in June is a promising sign.
While there's no defending Mauer's performance so far this season, it should be pointed out that he entered Sunday batting just .196 with runners in scoring position. In his career, Mauer has hit .327 in such situations, which should put to rest the notion that he wilts in important situations.
It's my belief that the idea that some players have an innate ability to perform better in clutch situations is vastly overstated. It's questionable if such a skill exists at all. Players tend to perform right around their career levels, if given enough plate appearances with runners in scoring position throughout a career. So look for Mauer to hit much better than .200 with RISP the rest of the season, provided he is healthy.
Imagine the boost the Twins offense would receive with a return of the Joe Mauer that Twins fans grew accustomed to for 10 seasons.
4. The Twins created outs on the bases by taking aggressive gambles and it hurt them Sunday. Brian Dozier was thrown out at third base trying to advance on a ground ball to shortstop in the first inning. In the second inning, Kurt Suzuki got thrown out at the plate after Eduardo Escobar singled. (Escobar took second on the throw to the plate.) After Sam Fuld hit his second double of the game in the sixth inning, he was thrown out at third on Danny Santana's bunt back to the pitcher. Santana was thrown out trying to steal second.
The flip side of the aggressive approach is that it can add extra bases where many teams would be content with fewer. Fuld scored from second on Dozier's single to center field in the fourth inning, and Santana went from first to third on the play. Then Joe Mauer hit a single up the middle that drove in Santana and Mauer took second on the throw.
Generally, I enjoy aggressive base running on an aesthetic level. One of the most exciting plays in baseball, in my opinion, is when a player takes advantage of his opponent's mistake or oversight and takes an extra base. I don't have the numbers to quantify if the Twins this season have improved their chance of winning or hindered it with their decisions on the bases.
(Thanks, readers, for helping me correct this section. I had it wrong when I first posted.)
5. Aaron Hicks apparently has decided that he's switch hitting again. General Manager Terry Ryan said he's supportive of the decision but isn't thrilled about the waffling. Ryan made it clear Sunday that Hicks is far too young for the Twins to give up on him. It's a weird development in the story of Hicks' career. He's at Double-A New Britain on a rehab assignment for his shoulder. Once the rehab stint runs out, the Twins would have the choice to activate him. What seems more likely, in my opinion, is to return him from the rehab stint and option him to the minor leagues. Whether he's batting exclusively right-handed or switch hitting, Hicks has some work to do at the plate before he's an everyday Major Leaguer.