Twins Talk, May 6 06 May 16

TWINS TALK
STORY AND PHOTOS BY GORDY JONES

A Few Observations, One Month in!

A month into the 2016 baseball season, I have to declare: This is not the same Twins team that I watched at spring training. In March, the guys made contact with the ball – sure, the pitching is a bit less in camp, but they were swinging aggressively, not foolishly. There were no injuries and few errors. Sano made a couple of blunders in right, but that is why he was out there in March — to learn the position. The team has been nearly a complete disappointment, and even the most faithful fans are frustrated. Manager Paul Molitor is probably the most frustrated of all.

The Twins need John Ryan Murphy to start hitting and throwing guys out. He hasn’t played well enough to be a major league catcher. Kurt Suzuki is playing well, but he’s getting beat up behind the plate. Murphy has to step up and be successful in his backup-to-the-backstop role. But as I write this, Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press tweets Murphy will probably be demoted, and catcher Juan Centeno will be brought up.

In another move, Casey Fien and Tommy Malone were placed on waivers. The team needs a good shake-up.

Free-swinging Eddie Rosario has been underachieving this year. Kirby Puckett used to say he never met a pitch he didn’t like. That was great for him, because he could hit any pitch. But Eddie has recently made some bad swings and has made some “young,” bonehead plays in the field. I like Eddie, and he has shown us his talent. I hope he does that again, soon.     

There have been a few positive development. With special sunglasses for day games, and special glasses for batting practice, Joe Mauer looks more like his old self. Concussions and blows to the head affected his vision the last few years. Even through all of the criticism and heckling, he was still out there, bravely battling the pitches. But now that they’ve figured out the problem, he is no longer battling. As he stands in the batter’s box, he is in full control – even with two strikes.

Speaking of control, Ricky Nolasco is back in the game, taking full command of most of his pitches. However, his 104th pitch last week against the Tigers was one too many, giving up a long ball which started that game’s demise. But he’s been around. I think he’ll be all right down the road.

Byung Ho Park is adapting nicely to major league pitching and has hit some very long home runs, one for 462 feet. He will strike out some, as home run hitters do. But what’s the rest of the team’s problem? Strikeouts are killing the Twins. It’s embarrassing! There were more than 17 in one game! Miguel Sano can hit the ball hard and far, but he cannot hit a changeup or breaking ball. I’m surprised he doesn’t strike out even more often. He has struck out 39 times in his 96 at-bats at the time that I write this. But he is a good teammate and wants only to help his team. He dislikes playing right field, but he loves playing baseball, and said he will play wherever they need him. While filling in at 3rd base while Trevor Plouffe was on the DL, he made some fantastic plays, especially for a big man. He weighs a little more than the Twins would like, but is still quick and agile. I hope he becomes tougher offensively; I love having him and Park in the middle of the lineup.

One guy who appears to be coming around is Brian Dozier. He was great in Florida, and seems to be faster and in better shape as he gets older. He told me, “I’m developing into my body. I don’t like when people say your prime is from 29 to 33, or any age. You hear that stuff all of the time. You just need to stay in shape. Torii Hunter helped me and a lot of other guys on this team to understand this. He was putting up All-Star numbers at the age of 40. If you eat right, work out right, and do things the right way, you can play for a long time. I miss Torii. You know, Torii is one of my better friends that I’ve ever had in baseball. He’s been a heck of a mentor for me. There are a lot of things I’ve taken from him and carried through my career.” I asked Brian if he mentors some of the young players. He replied. “That’s what you do: you carry the torch on. Torii helped me a lot, and any chance that I can help some of the younger guys, I’ll do it. Some of the other guys on this team do that, too. That’s what you play for: to pass the torch.”

Brian is one of the kindest guys you’ll find in baseball. He and his wife, Renee, live in Fulton, Mississippi. They love to hunt and fish – and he told me with a smile: “Over the winter, I tried to get better at not missing as many deer and ducks as I did the year before.” They often make missionary trips together, too. A couple of years ago, they helped build a school in Nicaragua in between climbing to the top of volcanos. In January, Renee made a trip to help the poor in Haiti. They are both Christian, and attended an MLB Christian outreach program recently in Atlanta working with charities. They were also helping victims of breast cancer.

Brian Dozier is kind, a lot of fun, has a great since of humor, and is always helping others and giving back. He is just the type of teammate you’d want if you played for the Twins. I think he just had a slow start out of the gate, and will now be giving back to the fans, and his teammates. Maybe that, along with a slight clubhouse shake-up, will give them an awakening, so we can at least have a few entertaining baseball games in 2016.