Twins searching for upswing in clutch hits

Twins searching for upswing in clutch hits

MINNEAPOLIS -- After being rung up on a called third strike in Wednesday's 7-2 loss, Torii Hunter's frustrations peaked. The right fielder was ejected in the eighth inning, and he proceeded to strip off his protective gear and jersey and throw them on the field. Hunter was unhappy with the strike zone after an 0-for-3 day.

Hunter's night at the plate was representative of a frustrating trend for the team, which has struggled offensively the past couple weeks. The Twins scored just three runs in as many games against the Royals. In Tuesday's game, Minnesota managed just one hit.

As the team slides -- it has lost consecutive series to Milwaukee and Kansas City and seven of its last 10 -- the inability to hit with runners in scoring position has been magnified.

Through April and May, the Twins were hitting .303 with runners in scoring position. That was second in Major League Baseball behind the Rockies. But since June 1, they're hitting .203 in those situations, 26th of 30 teams. They've scored 25 runs this month, also near the bottom of the league.

"You go through periods where you've got a guy on third, less than two outs, he's going to score," Minnesota manager Paul Molitor said. "And then you go through [times], as we have this past week, we seem to not be able to get them in."

Third baseman Trevor Plouffe, who had the Twins' only hit in Tuesday's loss, tripled high off the right-field wall but was stranded there. Plouffe came through with a runner in scoring position in Wednesday's game, driving in a run with a single. He also homered later in the game.

Plouffe's solo homer

But since the beginning of June, Plouffe has seen his batting average plummet from .279 to .250. First baseman Joe Mauer is hitting just .176 in June and Hunter is at .216. And it doesn't end there.

Molitor said the team wasn't swinging well overall and was somewhere in between being too aggressive and too patient.

"There's just a lot of things that your mind gets in the way of when you're trying to find a way to maybe take on too much of the responsibility to turn this thing around on your own shoulders," Molitor said.

Minnesota has been a big hit or two away from winning some of its close games lately.

"[There's] no cure to hitting with runners in scoring position. Just try to make contact and not strike out," Hunter said. "If you can make contact and make things happen and … you're hitting the ball right at them, you can't do anything about it. When you look at the numbers, you see these guys are not hitting with runners in scoring position, but [did] we hit the ball? That's all that matters."

Wednesday's game was a mix of both. The Twins were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position, with four strikeouts.

"We just have to be patient and wait our turn. I mean, we haven't been getting blown out or anything," Hunter said before Wednesday's loss. "It just doesn't work out that way. We've just got to fight through it. We have tough times in baseball just like you do in life. You just have to make adjustments and try to move on."

Betsy Helfand is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.