TORONTO — The Twins entered Friday’s series opener with Toronto on a five-game losing streak that dropped them below .500 for the first time this season. In that span, the Twins, who are on pace to set a single-season hitting record, have scored just six runs.
So what’s the focus when trying to course correct?
Their two-strike approach has been a prominent topic of conversation in recent days.
“Our glaring weakness is two strikes. It’s something we need to get better at. I take full responsibility for that,” hitting coach David Popkins said. “We have to prepare and execute better in these situations. Some of that is when things go wrong in baseball, it starts to get a little mental. Everyone is pushing and wanting to hurt themselves so bad and they tighten up a little bit in those situations. Some of it is on our side. We’ve got to do a better job as a staff and myself, especially preparing them for those situations.”
The Twins, who entered Friday leading the majors in strikeout rate at 29 percent, saw many of those two-hit at-bats result in strikeouts. They entered Friday averaging over 10 Ks per game.
While general manager Thad Levine said they projected before the season that they would probably be in the top 10 in hitting rate because of the players’ profiles, they certainly didn’t envision it.
“As long as you can, you want to work it out in a way that’s not, ‘Hey, you’re giving too much.’ Stop hitting,” Popkins said. “But there comes a point, especially the last four or five games, even more so before that, there comes a point where you have to sort it out. And that’s something that’s been addressed. And we’re standing in line, making adjustments on our end.”
While they hit a lot, they also took their walk, tied for sixth in the majors entering the weekend. And while walk-ins are welcome, Popkins said they like to trade some of those walks for earlier contact.
“It’s OK to go there 0-0 and shoot the ball the other way,” Popkins said. “You don’t always have to wait until you’re behind or even take what the game gives you. Of course, we don’t want to lose our power. We’re the best hitting team in baseball, so we have to use that as well. But at the same time, we have to make sure our weakness doesn’t weigh down our offense.”
Jorge Polanco was not in the starting lineup Friday, and manager Rocco Baldelli said he was heading before the game to get an MRI on his left hamstring, the same one he strained last month.
Polanco left Thursday’s game early with a strained hamstring, and Baldelli said Friday that it’s not gone.
“We don’t want to run it or set it in motion until we know what we’re dealing with,” Baldelli said.
Reliant Caleb Thielbar will soon have an MRI on his right oblique. Thielbar, who was placed on the injured list Friday, will return to Minnesota ahead of his teammates. Thielbar strained his oblique in May, forcing him out of action for a month. He pitched in one game after returning and felt good doing it, he said.
But a few days later, after playing catch this Tuesday, he noticed that it tightened up – in a different place than before and less severely, he believes – throughout the game.
“I would say the pain level is not as high as it used to be, but we’ll see,” Thielbar said.
The Twins called up Josh Winder to take Thielbar’s spot on the roster.
At St. Paul first baseman/outfielder Joey Gallo began a rehab assignment Friday night as he worked his way back from a hamstring strain. The schedule has him playing first base on Fridays, serving as designated hitter on Saturdays and then pitching on Sundays.
He will be joined in rehab by Kenta Maeda (triceps strain), who will make his third start for the Saints on Saturday.