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More lefties, fewer problems for Twins’ Max Kepler

Platooning less, the left-handed-hitting outfielder is hitting .300 against lefties this spring

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Minnesota Twins; Max Kepler
Minnesota Twins right fielder Max Kepler hits an RBI double against the Detroit Tigers during the second inning on Tuesday, April 26, at Target Field.
Nick Wosika / USA Today Sports
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Somewhat lost in the madness of the Twins’ walk-off victory on a two-base throwing error Tuesday was a productive day for Max Kepler. The right-fielder was 2 for 4 with an RBI double and two-run home run that gave the Twins a 3-1 lead on the Detroit Tigers headed into the eighth inning.

But after a three-run home run by Javier Baez put the Tigers ahead, the Twins eked out a 5-4, walk-off victory when Trevor Lanach and Gio Urshela scored on Detroit catcher Eric Haase’s errant throw to the third baseman, the last in an unfortunate series of events that started when Miguel Sano’s line drive to right glanced off the glove of right-fielder Robbie Grossman.

“There were about five different things that could have happened on that play,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said.

It certainly altered the Kepler-heavy narrative. Before the eighth, the storyline was tilting toward left-handed-hitting Kepler’s game-winning success against left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez.

Not to Kepler, though.

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“To me, a lefty is the same as a righty; it’s always been that way,” he said before Wednesday night’s game against the Tigers at Target Field. “Whoever wants to touch on lefty-lefty being a tougher matchup can, but in my opinion, since I grew up playing baseball, it never really jumped out at me until I got to this level of baseball.”

Kepler is a .211 career hitter in 720 at-bats against lefties in his six-plus full seasons in the majors compared to .242 against right-handers. But Baldelli said co-hitting coach David Popkins recently suggested leaving Kepler in against left-handers and it “seems to have played out pretty good.”

Kepler is hitting .300 against lefties (6 for 20) with a homer and four RBIs against lefties this season. Before Wednesday’s game he had hit safely in six of his past seven games with a .364 average, a homer, three RBIs, five walks and four strikeouts. The Twins were 5-2 in those games.

“Everybody used to blow it out of proportion, that lefty versus lefty is something out of the ordinary,” Kepler said. “I never really looked at it until I got to this level and I’ll be honest, it got into my head a couple times when I was platooned against lefties. It does make it harder to see a certain arm when you don’t get to face it, regardless of whether it’s a righty or a lefty. But to me, it’s always been the ball coming from a different angle.

“The more you get to see it, the more you’ll get adjusted to it.”

Kepler got around on two pitches for his double and home run, the second clearing the home run porch in right. Asked what the pitch was, he said, “Something offspeed, changeup or slider.”

“Usually when I’m doing well, I don’t even know what I’m hitting,” he added. “I’m just seeing it to the bat and making contact.”

SHRINKING ROSTERS

Sonny Gray’s bullpen session on Tuesday was a success, Baldelli said, but the veteran right-hander will throw once more off a mound before making a rehab start in Florida when the Twins are at Tampa Bay this weekend.

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On the injured list with a hamstring strain, Gray will pitch for one of the Twins’ Class A organizations in Florida before returning to Minnesota. “As important as any piece to this is the roster is going to be shrunk,” Baldelli said.

Because of the short spring, major league active rosters were expanded to 28 for the first three weeks of the season. They go back to 26 starting Monday, with a 14-pitcher limit through May 29. So, the Twins want to get Gray ready to go. He has made just one big-league start this season.

“We’re not going to have the luxury of just bringing bullpen guys out to cover innings for starters going forward,” Baldelli said. “So, getting into May, Sonny makes his start, we’re going to need him to make a full start. So, because of that, we’ll make sure he gets built up a little bit.”

BRIEFLY

Gary Sanchez, out with abdominal discomfort, was scheduled to go through a full workout on Wednesday and expected to start Thursday’s series finale against the Tigers.

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