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Twins manager Baldelli shuffles lineups based on data, matchups

Alex Kirilloff batted sixth for the Twins on Tuesday night, the lowest slot he's occupied in a starting lineup all season. That's not a surprise, given his 1-for-16 slump over his last seven games. And it's even less of a shock when you consider that the man making out that lineup card is Rocco Baldelli.

The Twins' manager normally writes out each day's lineup the night before the game, while consulting a package of statistics on each player and each opposing pitcher. And that system generally produces a batting order unique to that day, that game.

In fact, Tuesday's lineup was the 34th different order that Baldelli has utilized in the 35 games that the Twins have played. That might seem like a lot, but it's actually been Baldelli's pattern since becoming manager in 2019. He used 145 lineups during his first season and has increased that number in every full season since, to last season's total of 156 unique batting orders in 162 games.

"We don't really have a choice right now," Baldelli said, citing the Twins' injury history and his desire to keep most of his players active. "The last couple of years, we haven't put together what a lot of people would deem your ideal offensive lineup. We've been able to cope with that OK. … We have a lot of guys that are getting the job done."

But wouldn't he prefer settling on nine regulars and utilizing a more set lineup?

"That's a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow," Baldelli said, discounting the possibility with today's find-an-edge mentality. "I'm not really chasing that in any form. I don't care if I make one [lineup] and we bash them to death with 300 homers and I sit back and slap everyone five. That's fine. And if we have to use every player every night and pinch hit more than any team in the league, that's fine, too."

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Besides, he said, the hunt for exactly the right combination of players in the best possible order is rewarding, too.

"I like thinking about the game," Baldelli said. "So yeah, I enjoy working through [various ideas] trying to find ways to win. I do enjoy that."

Kepler, Polanco reunite

The 2024 season is the first since 2011 that Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco aren't teammates, so it meant a lot to the Twins outfielder to see his former roommate back at Target Field.

"I miss him a lot. I told him that," said Kepler, who played on six different minor league teams with Polanco. "It kind of brings me back to being a kid, when we started in the [rookie-level Gulf Coast League]. The game comes a lot easier when you have friends out there."

But friendship has its limits. When Polanco led off the ninth inning Monday, he hit a long fly ball that drifted foul, a smash that would have narrowed the Twins' lead to one run if it had stayed fair.

"You just hope it doesn't go his way today," Kepler said. "As a brother, I'm happy for him with any success he has the rest of his career. But then again, not if it were to be against our team. It's kind of a weird in-between."

Etc.

* Kepler doubled in the third inning Tuesday, extending his hitting streak to nine games, one short of his career-high of 10, set in 2019. Since coming off the injured list on April 22, Kepler — who was 1-for-20 on the season when he was injured — has collected a hit in 13 of the 14 games he has played, and he entered Tuesday batting .439 (18-for-41) with seven extra-base hits.

* The Toledo Mud Hens tagged starter Joe Gunkel for five earned runs in 1⅓ innings and the St. Paul Saints fell 7-5 at Fifth Third Field. DaShawn Keirsey Jr. became the just the second Saints player in franchise history to homer twice in Toledo.