ST. PETERSBURG–The Twins avoided being swept by the Rays Wednesday with a 10-6 win at Tropicana Field. Coupled with the Angels’ 3-1 loss to Oakland, The Twins now find themselves back in the 2nd wild card spot in the American league. Although the series was disappointing in some ways, Minnesota ended up losing just one game to their closest competitor—Anaheim—in the wild card race over their three days in South Florida. Another big series starts Thursday in Kansas City.
James Rowson on Byron Buxton’s offensive development
Back in June when the Twins were in Boston, I talked to Byron Buxton about the tweaks he was making to his swing, including dropping the leg kick he used during his big September last season. Buxton was struggling at the time, and the decision to drop the leg kick was an attempt to help him make more consistent contact. Buxton, of course, has caught fire in the second half of the season, slugging well over .600 since August 1 with 8 home runs.
Twins hitting coach James Rowson has worked closely with Buxton on refining his approach at the plate. Although dropping the leg kick has been the most noticeable difference, Rowson said that was just part of the larger goal of trying to get more lower half stability in Buxton’s mechanics.
“The discussion wasn’t to drop the leg kick,” he said. “I know the leg kick was a big thing that was noticeable, but all we talked about was establishing strong lower half stability. In order to do that, initially he stopped doing the leg kick to get a good feel for his lower half, and then he took off from that point. He has the athleticism, you may see him a year or two from now develop a little bit of a leg lift, but he’ll be doing it now with a strong lower half underneath him.”
Rowson emphasized that the tweaks Buxton’s made haven’t been the result of a directive, but a discussion between the two on what he’s most comfortable with. It’s an ongoing process, with the most recent change being Buxton choking up on the bat.
“Always a lot of discussion,” Rowson said of their relationship. “There are days he’ll come in and choke up a little bit and say, ‘I feel good today.’ Hitting’s feel, so when he feels good we say, ‘Hey, stay there and see how it goes.’ That’s him. He has that ability to kind of play around with things day to day. We talk about what feels good, what doesn’t and know kind of what we should stick with, shouldn’t stick with.”
What might be most impressive about Buxton’s run is that he’s made all of these adjustments in the middle of a major league season, and Rowson deserves a lot of credit, in my opinion, for guiding him through the early rough patches and figuring out what works.
Gibson on demotions, second half resurgence
After a terrible start to the season that twice landed Kyle Gibson in Rochester, he’s rebounded well in the second half. Since the all-star break, Gibson’s posted a 3.64 ERA in eight starts while striking out nearly a batter an inning. His improvement has been a huge boon to the pitching staff, which has lacked back-end stability most of the year.
No player likes getting sent down, of course, but Gibson said his two demotions to Rochester helped him work on areas where he was struggling without the pressure of competing in the big leagues.
“I think it was more mental than anything,” Gibson said of his struggles. “It [getting sent down] allowed me to kind of take a break from feeling like I was letting my teammates down from not being as good as I could be. It allowed me to just kind of work on a few things in lower pressure situations. It’s hard to really work on your stuff in these games here and still feel like you’re giving your team a chance to win.”
One of his biggest issues earlier in the season was falling behind hitters and not attacking the zone. That often lead to walks or 3-1 fastballs that resulted in hard contact. Gibson believes attacking earlier in the count has played a big role in his recent success.
“I just wasn’t aggressive to bigger parts of the zone,” he said. “I was getting too specific and getting too small minded with my spots. [Now I] just try to be more aggressive to the meaty part of the zone early in the count and just expand off that.”
Molitor on remaining calm
Paul Molitor had what I thought were some really interesting comments before Tuesday’s game about how visualization exercises helped him throughout his big league career. Molitor, in my opinion, can be really insightful and introspective at times, and I thought his comments Tuesday were a good example of that. Here’s a portion of them, if you’re interested:
“Without getting too deep in psychology, there’s positive things to get out of your ability to see and imagine, and sometimes when you can recreate what it feels like in a given moment in your head, and you can repeat that, you can take it with you. I think it brings a little more calmness to situations where things get a little fast. There’s things you can bring into the equation to bring solace and trust what you’re going to do. I kind of had a routine of sitting there on the top step of the dugout pretty much every game, to kind of remember the environment. You never want to take for granted the moment of putting on an MLB uniform and playing, and I think to be able to hold on to that all the way to the end, however long you play. And then you’re reminded of different times and different sounds and different places. We all know what it smells like walking through the halls of Fenway, and the fresh cut grass of spring training, and all the things that just kind of make baseball unique. For me it was a way to just bring calmness.”