Batting second for the Twins is ... Brian Dozier?

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Now that the Twins have installed Aaron Hicks in the leadoff spot, ideally for the next 10 to 15 years, they have a new dilemma. Who should hit second? It's more complicated than you might think. "I've always had the thought a No.

Brian Dozier
Second baseman Brian Dozier hopes to bounce back from a rough 2012 and hit second for the Twins this year. (2013 file / Associated Press)

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Now that the Twins have installed Aaron Hicks in the leadoff spot, ideally for the next 10 to 15 years, they have a new dilemma.

Who should hit second?

It's more complicated than you might think.

"I've always had the thought a No. 2 guy has to be able to take pitches a little bit," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire says. "He has to be able to protect the guy on base and be an on-base-percentage guy also so your 3-4-5 guys are getting opportunities."

What else?


"Bunt," Gardenhire said. "Get 'em over. Be able to shoot the ball the other way with a man on second. All those things. Basically, handle the bat. That's a No. 2 guy."

Mite-sized speedster Ben Revere handled that thankless role for almost half of the 2012 season, but he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in December.

Utility infielder Jamey Carroll has more than 1,500 career plate appearances in the No. 2 slot -- including 42 starts there last season -- and a deep understanding of its traditional requirements.

"Hitting second, you have to be selfless so the rest of the lineup can flow," Carroll says. "You have to be comfortable hitting behind in the count and giving yourself up a lot and understanding the glory is in doing the little things more than it is having the numbers and the sexy part of the game."

At age 39, the fundamentally sound Carroll remains pigeonholed in a reserve role.

Darin Mastroianni batted second 18 times last season, but he's the fourth outfielder, and Josh Willingham prefers playing left field to being the designated hitter.

Trevor Plouffe hit 24 homers last year with a paltry .301 OBP.

Young shortstop Pedro Florimon, with an even worse career OBP of .269, will bat ninth, for good reason.


Chris Parmelee knows how to get on base, but he's more of a plodder.

Justin Morneau and Ryan Doumit? That's the meat of the Twins' order.

How about free-swinging second baseman Brian Dozier, who has auditioned for the role much of the spring? How is that experiment coming along?

"I feel comfortable right now with Dozier right there," Gardenhire says. "I feel OK. He's been swinging good; he's having quality at-bats. He's been able to handle the bat. We'll see how it goes."

Can Dozier grow into the role?

"I think so," Gardenhire says. "He's seeing the ball better. He has a chance to get better on-base percentage, all those things. He's handled the bat pretty decent up to this point, but he likes to swing. That's what makes him a little iffy in the 2-hole, is he really likes to swing."

Dozier struggled to a .271 OBP last season, losing the starting shortstop job and getting shipped back to Class AAA in mid-August. His 58/16 strikeout/walk rate doesn't exactly profile as the sort of "handle-the-bat" guy managers typically prefer to hit second.

However, Dozier has bunted for hits a couple of times this spring, reaching base almost 35 percent of the time. He's also a good base runner with a knack for stealing bases, having been caught just 20 times in 75 attempts over his four professional seasons.


Then again, we have reached a point in the game's evolution when the New York Yankees often feel comfortable hitting slugging Curtis Granderson second. The Washington Nationals (Bryce Harper), Los Angeles Angels (Torii Hunter last season) and Baltimore Orioles (J.J. Hardy) have a similar philosophy.

"The game has changed an awful lot in that sense; it really has," Gardenhire says. "The prototype used to be that kind of (scrappy) guy. It's changed. You can put your best hitter there now -- an on-base-percentage guy.

"People say Joe Mauer should hit second or whatever, but do we really want 'Man on second base and Joe Mauer coming up,' and he's shooting it over the other way? I don't know about that. That's not his game. Just hitting is his game, but he could do it."

Digest that for a second.

Gardenhire wouldn't really ask a three-time batting champion, who basically has been entrenched as the Twins' No. 3 hitter for the past decade, to take perfectly hittable pitches just so Hicks can have a few cracks at stealing second.

Would he?

"I take a lot of pitches, anyway," Mauer says.

Nothing has been decided, but Gardenhire and Mauer have had that discussion about how to solve the riddle at the top of the Twins' lineup.


"I told him, 'Wherever you want me to hit, I'll hit. That's fine with me,' " Mauer says. "Wherever he thinks will give us the best chance to score runs. We have a deep lineup, which is good. I think whether I hit second or third, it's not a set-in-stone thing."

For his career, Mauer has 327 plate appearances as a No. 2 hitter, covering 73 starts. His OBP as a No. 2 hitter is 35 points lower than his .408 standard over 916 games in the No. 3 slot. However, Mauer's slugging percentage is 49 points higher when hitting second, which gives him a combined OPS that is 14 points higher (.885 to .871) when hitting second.

"I think the type of hitter I am, if I get an opportunity to drive runs in, I'm going to try to," Mauer says. "That's kind of how it's been ever since I got here. Obviously, we have to find a formula that gives us the best chance to win.

"Whether I'm hitting third or second, I don't know. I don't have the answer right now. I don't need to figure it out."

That is Gardenhire's job, of course, with front-office input -- specifically from Jack Goin, Twins manager of baseball research and the organization's resident sabermetrician.

According to the skipper, Goin has a novel idea of how to solve the Twins' lineup riddle.

"Jack's thought is Mauer should bat first, second and third," Gardenhire deadpans.

Apprised of this, the Twins' franchise catcher breaks into a big grin.


"First, second and third?" Mauer says. "If they'll allow us to do that, I'll do it. Absolutely."

As spring training wound down, Gardenhire admittedly was "still trying to get a feel" for how to set the top of his lineup.

The old-school baseball man couldn't resist, however, getting in one more dig at the growing influence of "cybermetrics," as he likes to call it.

"Once we start, I'll make that final decision," Gardenhire says. "I'll sit down with my staff and our stat guy and see what that computer spits out, and then we'll go from there. If it's coughing, then I'll do it my way."


Red Sox 4, Twins 2

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Felix Doubront pitched six-hit ball for five scoreless innings, and Boston beat Minnesota on Saturday in the spring training finale for both teams.

The left-hander walked one, hit a batter and struck out six.


Twins right-hander Mike Pelfrey gave up four runs and nine hits in 3 2/3 innings.

  • Twins 1B Justin Morneau, who had been sidelined with a back tightness, had four at-bats in a minor league game Saturday morning. He is expected to be ready to start the season.
  • RHP Cole De Vries, who left Friday's game after just three innings with forearm tightness, is doing fine and is expected to make his start this Saturday. Brewers 5, White Sox 4

    MILWAUKEE -- Rickie Weeks hit a two-run homer in the first inning, and Milwaukee beat Chicago on Saturday.

    White Sox starter Dylan Axelrod came on in relief and threw 5 1/3 scoreless innings before tiring in the eighth. Axelrod, scheduled to start Friday against Seattle, was pulled after RBI doubles by Jonathan Lucroy and Sean Halton.

    Logan Schafer's run-scoring single off Matt Zaleski put Milwaukee ahead.

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