By Megan Ryan
In the past two weeks, the Twins’ baserunning has drawn attention. But not in the most flattering of ways.
The most glaring mistakes have come at home plate. At the Yankees in extra innings last week, third base coach Tommy Watkins sent Gilberto Celestino home on Luis Arraez’ groundball to right field, only for Celestino — who started on second base— to be thrown out at home by a wide margin. And Tuesday night against the Royals, Carlos Correa was in a similar situation, trying to come home from second on Jose Miranda’s center-field line drive only for Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez to tag him out easily.
“Never do you lump different baserunning plays in because every one of the specifics is very, very different,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Just in general, I think one thing we can do better, we can run the bases better as a group. It’s going to be an area of focus, not just now, but going forward as well.”
Baldelli lent his support to Watkins, in his first season at third base after manning first last season. Baldelli has said he considers coaching third base to be one of the most difficult jobs in all of pro sports and a position he’s turned down before in his coaching career.
“He’s made so many great decisions this year on very, very challenging plays. You’re always going to have a couple plays you want back over the course of a year. That’s just part of baseball, and there’s no way around that,” Baldelli said. “But overall, I think he’s done a pretty good job for us, and I’m very pleased with his decision-making and all of the things he’s done out there.”
Sending players home at the wrong time haven’t been the Twins only problem on the bases, though. The team has the second-worst stolen-base percentage at 65% in the American League, with just the Detroit Tigers worse at 64%. Making that even more condemning is that the Twins have only attempted to steal 46 times this season, the fewest in the AL.
Once the active rosters expanded for the playoff push, the Twins added Billy Hamilton from the minor leagues, a veteran who has made a career off his speed and aptitude as a pinch-runner with 321 stolen bases in 10 seasons. But even he hasn’t been immune to the base-running struggles. At the White Sox a bit more than a week ago, he tripped when rounding third and thus failed to score. In his seven appearances for the Twins so far, he’s only tried to steal a base once, and the White Sox threw him out.
Baldelli pointed to the Twins also being without some of their best baserunners, including Byron Buxton, another speedy outfielder. He’s currently on the injured list, but even before that, he was reining it in as he played through a right knee injury all season.
“Some of our best, really good baserunners that are probably going to help us win a lot of games on the bases have probably been forced to go base-to-base or take things slow, which is not easy,” Baldelli said. “It’s much easier when you can kind of move your way around very quickly and run the bases aggressively and do those sorts of things.”
Baldelli called good baserunning a “mental exercise” of knowing what to do even before the ball is put in play, so the reaction is second-nature. But that will require more teaching and discussion among the staff and players, which Baldelli said would be challenging. But he also said it was necessary to improve as the Twins try to make up the five game difference — going into Wednesday’s games — between them and the AL-Central leading Guardians before the regular season ends in less than a month.
- Second baseman Jorge Polanco will likely make his return from a left knee injury during the road series at Cleveland this weekend but probably not in time for the first game Friday.
- Buxton is not yet doing his fully baseball activities as he works to come back from his right knee and hip injuries and is not traveling with the team to Cleveland. But Baldelli said Buxton might not have to be back in center-field form before he can rejoin the team, as being the designated hitter would be enough of a reason to activate him. “If he can be in the lineup and swing the bat and be able to run the bases without significant concern that his leg isn’t healed, I think he can help us win,” Baldelli said. “I’d be in favor of that when that time comes.”