MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins continue to believe that rookie Brian Dozier is their answer at shortstop, someone capable of making all the plays in the field while developing into a table-setter in their lineup.
Before Dozier becomes that player, the Twins know there will be growing pains. Those pains are ongoing. After a promising start that included key hits and slick defensive plays, Dozier enters this week’s series with the Phillies batting .236 with two homers and 16 RBI in 32 games. His eight errors were tied for second-most in the American League entering Monday — the problem being that the five players he’s tied with have played at least 44 games.
Dozier definitely has had his moments since being called up May 7. But the Twins remain supportive and approve of the way he’s handling his first rough patch as a major leaguer.
“He’s battling,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He’s a kid. He’s out there going through it. He’s working on all parts of his game. They are making adjustments to him, and he’s working on it. I’m more worried about working with his defense and make sure we catch the balls we’re supposed to.”
Dozier, 25, was batting .286 with two homers through his first 14 games. Then he went on a 4-for-32 skid. His defense also tailed off, with everything coming to a head last week during a road trip to Cleveland and Kansas City.
Dozier committed three errors on the trip, two during a June 3 game in Cleveland. He said he underestimated how fast Cleveland’s Jason Kipnis was on one ball hit to him. The same thing happened later that week with Kansas City’s Jarrod Dyson on a ball hit to Dozier.
He was doing something that many young players do — let their offensive struggles affect their defense.
“I got off to a good start and then I started getting myself in holes and started to slump for maybe the first time in my career,” Dozier said. “I did struggle a little bit in A-ball, but nothing like I did up here.
“I started getting down on myself, and it started showing up defensively this past week or two.”
It was about the same time that Gardenhire began using Ben Revere in the No. 2 hole and batting Dozier fifth and sixth in the batting order. Dozier tried to act like he was an RBI guy, and that fueled his skid.
“I think I was trying to do too much with the baseball instead of just keep playing my game and tried to hit the homers more and not hit the double,” he said. “My barrel started leaking a lot to try to get up and hit the ball as hard as I could. I don’t need to be doing that, and I missed a lot of fastballs over the plate and then (pitchers) started throwing more breaking balls.”
He realized what he’s been doing wrong and is working on adjustments. His teammates have talked to him about keeping his spirits up, as Dozier mentioned Justin Morneau, Jamey Carroll and Josh Willingham being instrumental in helping him ride out his slump.
One huge issue last season was the inability of Tsuyoshi Nishioka to make routine plays in the field. No one feels that way about Dozier.
“I had heard great things coming into spring training because I’ve never played with him before,” Twins lefthander Scott Diamond said, “but playing with him down in Rochester and now playing with him up here he’s unbelievable, knowing he can cover as much ground as he does.”
Gardenhire has watched Dozier for signs that his struggles were getting to him but has been satisfied with how he’s working through his slump. There have been no signs from the club that a demotion to Class AAA Rochester for more seasoning was discussed.
“I know he has offensive ability and he has defensive ability,” Gardenhire said. “I just want to make sure he’s catching the ball, staying within himself and separating the two.
“He had a lit bit of a rough road trip where some balls kind of got to him. I thought he was playing a little too deep, catching balls too deep and kind of rushing stuff. So we talked about being more aggressive and getting the ball earlier so he’s not rushing his throws.”
So the lessons will continue on the major league level.
“It’s the same game,” Dozier said. “It might be a little bit faster, but not so much, to be honest with you. The biggest thing I’ve learned since I have been here is being consistent, no matter what. You are going to have your ups and downs, but you have to keep a level head.”