At the start of the season, manager Ron Gardenhire installed rookie center fielder Aaron Hicks at the leadoff spot. He was very patient with him, and gave him a full opportunity to win that spot in the order.
But Hicks, who had made the leap from Double-A ball to the majors this season, was overwhelmed with the responsibility and ended up batting .047 with three RBIs, three runs scored, 20 strikeouts and a .109 on-base percentage in 43 at-bats. The Twins moved him down to eighth in the order, and Hicks has been slowly improving ever since.
Reserve outfielder Darin Mastroianni logged some time in the leadoff spot (in relief of Hicks) before he became injured. Mastroianni batted .222 with a .300 on-base percentage in nine at-bats at leadoff. But he went on the 15-day DL with a stress reaction in his ankle, and that time is expanding, as it was announced he will be undergoing surgery on the ankle.
When the team moved Hicks out of leadoff, they moved second baseman Brian Dozier into the No. 1 spot. Dozier has been hit and miss in the spot thus far. In 78 leadoff at-bats, Dozier had an average of .256 with one home run, seven RBIs, two doubles, one triple and nine runs.
But where Dozier drops the ball is his OBP, which is at .280, below the league average for leadoff hitters (.329). It is certainly an improvement over Hicks, but not high enough when the Twins have batters such as Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, who have been ripping it up during the month of May batting behind him.
Utility infielder Jamey Carroll recently stepped in for Dozier at second base and went 3-for-5 and had an RBI. He is hitting 11-for-33 (.333) in the leadoff spot, but might not be considered a long-term solution since he is not an every-day player.
The idea of hot-hitting rookie Oswaldo Arcia being moved to leadoff has come up, but Arcia is doing well hitting in the bottom of the lineup and the Twins don't want another failed experiment where they heap too much responsibility on a young player until he has gained more confidence in the league.
Then there is the idea of making Mauer the leadoff, and while his OBP is great for the spot, there are certainly reasons for not doing that. He was moved from third to second this year already, and manager Ron Gardenhire has said that when Mauer catches, he wouldn't have enough time to prepare to bat leadoff in the first inning of home games. That might seem like a trifle, since it happens only once per game, but Gardenhire likely doesn't want to mess with a batter who is already hitting the best on his team.
The Twins continue to tinker with the position. In its most recent series, a three-game home stand against Boston, Dozier returned to the No. 1 spot for the opener Friday. He went 0-for-3 with a walk. In the next two games, Carroll got the nod and was 2-for-4 with an RBI on Saturday and 1-for-4 in the series finale Sunday, a 5-1 loss to the Red Sox.
Assistant general manager Rob Antony said before the game that Dozier has been working on some mechanical aspects of his swing with hitting coach Tom Brunansky. Is the change just a rest for Dozier, or could it be a sign of things to come? Either way, the team is not yet satisfied with the production at No. 1.
NEXT: Twins (Kevin Correia, 4-3, 3.35) vs. Braves (Julio Teheran, 2-1, 4.57)
C Joe Mauer (0-for-4) snapped his season-long 15-game hit streak. It was tied for the second-longest hit streak of his career. Over the 15 games, he hit .442 (27-for-61) with 12 doubles, 11 walks and five RBIs. The Twins hope that Mauer, who has been quite streaky this year, doesn't go into another slump.
RHP Kevin Correia will try to get back to his winning ways. He has been eating up innings for the Twins, recently pitching into the eighth inning for the fourth time this year, but gave up two late runs to get saddled with a hard-luck loss. The righty tossed seven-plus innings, surrendering four runs on nine hits and a walk to miss out on a quality start on May 14. He has a 3-2 record with a 3.51 ERA in 41.0 innings against the Braves.
LF Josh Willingham sat out most of the final game of the Red Sox series, getting a rest, until he pinch hit in the eighth, striking out. Willingham is not injured, but he has been struggling at the plate for some time. During the month of May, Willingham has batted 7-for-53 (.132) with no homers and five RBIs in 15 games, pulling his average down to .198 and a slugging percentage under .400. Willingham has struggled to match his 2012 numbers, which included 35 homers.
2B Jamey Carroll was hitting .368 (7-for-19) in his previous four games. And in seven games at the leadoff position, he was hitting .333 (11-for-33). Against the Red Sox in the final game of the series, he went 1-for-4. The Twins' search for a consistent leadoff hitter will continue.
LHP Pedro Hernandez, who has been up and down in his starts six starts this season, struggled with the Red Sox lineup. Hernandez gave up nine hits in the 4.1 innings with one walk and two strikeouts. In his previous outing, Hernandez pitched well and got himself a reprieve from potentially being moved down, but he may have stirred up that talk with his game against the Red Sox.
"We need innings (from Hernandez) and we didn't get it," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He managed to keep the score at a pace where we had a chance. But it wasn't a great performance by any means. We have to start pitching better. Our bullpen's getting more innings than our starters and that's not good."
C Ryan Doumit sat out the final game of the Red Sox series, after going 2-for-4 the previous game. The word is that he was getting a rest, but Doumit had a big collision at the plate in the sixth inning when he tagged from third and tried to bowl over Red Sox catcher Ryan Lavarnway. Antony said Doumit wasn't hurt but might have been a little sore from the collision.
RHP Cole De Vries has been reinstated from his rehab assignment and optioned to Triple-A Rochester. De Vries made the opening season roster but came away from his last spring training outing with tightness in his forearm. His rehab has gone well, according to assistant Rob Antony. "He didn't have any setbacks. Right now we just don't think he is ready to help us," Antony said. "He's healthy so you don't keep him on the DL. We optioned him and I think he understood and everything is fine."
RHP Tim Wood has some inflammation in his rotator cuff and he is going to stay in town and rehab it for the next 8-9 days while the team is on the road next week. He has bicep tendinitis and minor inflammation on the rotator cuff, according to Antony.
"Hopefully, he will go from here to Rochester (and be there) until he can get throwing again and try to get back on track," Antony said. "And when he's able to pitch, we'll put him on another rehab assignment."
"We didn't do much (offensively). We had that one big chance at the end of the ball game couldn't get one in. We've got to start picking up these runs."—Manager Ron Gardenhire, of the team's five hits in Sunday's 5-1 loss to the Red Sox.
RHP Cole De Vries (forearm strain) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 30. He pitched in extended spring training April 25 and April 30. He began a rehabilitation assignment May 5 with Class A Fort Myers. He made his third rehab start with Triple-A Rochester on May 15. He was reinstated from his rehab assignment May 19 and optioned to Triple-A Rochester.
OF Darin Mastroianni (stress reaction in left ankle) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 16. His walking boot was removed over the May 11-12 weekend. He felt discomfort when testing foot in drills May 14. Mastroianni is going to have surgery on May 22. His stress reaction has healed, but not perfectly, according to assistant general manager Rob Antony. The early prognosis is the team "optimistically hopes he will be back on the field in six weeks," Antony said. At that time, Mastroianni would go through a rehab stint.
RHP Tim Wood (shoulder) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 24. He had his rehab assignment rescinded May 9. He underwent an MRI on his shoulder May 15 in Rochester, N.Y.
C Drew Butera (broken left pinkie) was hurt in his first at-bat of the season for Triple-A Rochester on April 5. He has reported to Fort Myers to begin rehab.
RHP Nick Blackburn (right elbow surgery in October 2012; right wrist surgery in January 2013) had begun playing catch as of mid-April. He is not on the disabled list because he was re-signed to a minor league contract.
LHP Raphael Perez (left shoulder surgery in September 2012) threw live batting practice April 11 for the first time since becoming a member of the Twins organization. He isn't on the disabled list, as he signed a minor league contract with Minnesota in February.
RHP Vance Worley
RHP Kevin Correia
RHP Mike Pelfrey
LHP Scott Diamond
LHP Pedro Hernandez
LHP Glen Perkins (closer)
RHP Jared Burton
LHP Brian Duensing
RHP Casey Fien
RHP Anthony Swarzak
RHP Ryan Pressly
RHP Josh Roenicke
DH Ryan Doumit
1B Justin Morneau
2B Brian Dozier
SS Pedro Florimon
3B Trevor Plouffe
INF/OF Jamey Carroll
INF Eduardo Escobar
LF Josh Willingham
CF Aaron Hicks
RF Chris Parmelee
OF Wilkin Ramirez
OF Oswaldo Arcia