MINNEAPOLIS At the beginning of this season, the Minnesota Twins struggled to turn double plays. For a stretch of six games early in the year, they didn't turn a single one. Often times, they'd get the first out but fail to capitalize on the second one.
Now, Minnesota leads all of baseball in double plays turned, much to the surprise of those turning them.
"Do we really?" asked shortstop Brian Dozier, when told that the Twins' 69 double plays turned leads the majors. (The next closest is Toronto with 57.)
Added second baseman Alexi Casilla: "Seriously? I didn't know that."
Indeed, the Twins have perfected the art of, well, the twin killing. They turned four double plays in Monday's 5-4 win over the visiting Oakland Athletics, the first time this season that an opponent grounded into four double plays against Minnesota.
Left-hander Scott Diamond was on the mound when three of those four double plays were turned. Diamond was making just his fifth start since being called up from Triple-A Rochester earlier this year, but already he's seen what his defense can do behind him. He's gotten at least one double play turned behind him in four of his five starts, including two last week against Chicago.
"For us as defenders, it's the pitchers getting ground balls. That's the biggest thing," Dozier said. "Scott does a really good job of that. Ever since he got up here, ever since Rochester, he keeps the ball down. He pitches at the knees. That's what makes him so effective."
But while the pitchers are the ones inducing the ground balls, the fielders still have to make the plays. Minnesota has done just that, and Dozier and Casilla are two big reasons why the double plays are on the rise.
The duo has formed a chemistry in the middle infield ever since Dozier made his big league debut on May 7. Dozier has only played shortstop with the Twins, while Casilla has been Minnesota's primary second baseman over the past few weeks.
"It took a little bit. That goes with anybody," Dozier said of adapting to a new double play partner. "Lexi's really good over there. It took a week or two to get (a feel for) where he wants it or where I want it, that kind of stuff. I think it's good now."
Said Casilla of Dozier: "He's very good. He's a good athlete. He can do it all. He can do a lot of things with his glove."
Veteran infielder Jamey Carroll played shortstop before Dozier's arrival and then moved to second base after that. Now, he's seeing more time at third base. But regardless of the makeup of the infield, the combination is comfortable with each other. That includes Trevor Plouffe, who has also been playing some third base and helped turn double plays in each of the last two games.
That comfort level is evident whenever the infielders go to turn a double play which these days is quite often. In the Twins' last four games, opponents have grounded into double plays at least three times each game for a total of 13 in four games.
The Twins' starting rotation likes to pitch to contact, meaning they'll let batters put the ball in play and let the defense go to work behind them. Diamond did just that Monday, as he induced ground ball double plays in the first, third and sixth innings. Each of the three was started by a different infielder as well, but they all were executed cleanly.
"It shows how good our defense is," said Diamond. "We're just getting them to put the ball in play, and because we trust our defense, they're as good as they're showing. We have a lot of faith in them, so we just let them put the ball in play and let the game roll out."
Granted, Minnesota's defense has more opportunities to turn double plays than most teams, as its pitchers are allowing more base runners. Opponents have a .344 on-base percentage against the Twins' pitchers, which is the second-highest in all of baseball behind only Colorado.
Still, Minnesota has been able to limit the damage when runners do go on by turning so many double plays. It's a recipe that calls for one part pitching and two parts defense.
The Twins seem to have perfected that recipe.
"Earlier in the season we were missing those opportunities," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We worked really hard at it during batting practice. These guys have taken a lot of ground balls and turned a lot of double plays together, so right now when we get our chances we are pretty much getting the double plays turned. That's a big thing."
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