Kepler's rough night a learning lesson

Kepler's rough night a learning lesson

MINNEAPOLIS -- As Twins' right fielder Max Kepler knows, there's a learning curve that comes with being a rookie.

It was evident against the Rays on Friday, as he made an error that led to an unearned go-ahead run in the eighth before striking out with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the inning in a 4-2 loss at Target Field. Kepler called his strikeout something he can learn from, as he believed he got too amped up in a big situation.

"When the crowd gets loud, I'm still learning to zone out and focus on the ball," Kepler said. "I got a little too excited there. A little trigger-happy. I have to learn."

With one out in the eighth, Kepler, playing in his 15th career game, bobbled a single to right from Hank Conger, allowing Taylor Motter to go from first to third, as Motter held up at second before seeing Kepler's misplay. Brad Miller sharply hit what proved to be the game-winning single to right to score Motter from third, and the run was unearned, as the official scorer believed Motter wouldn't have scored from second.

Kepler had the chance to redeem himself in the bottom of the eighth, as Rays closer Alex Colome loaded the bases after a pair of two-out walks. But Kepler struck out on three pitches to end the scoring threat.

Twins manager Paul Molitor, though, didn't believe it was a carryover from his mistake in the field, as it was just a situation Kepler will get better at with more playing time.

"I don't think so," Molitor said. "A young guy getting a big hit late in the game, it's something where it takes experience. Sometimes you get sped up. The first pitch he took a good swing at a fastball and he might've got beat by a tick. Subconsciously you're thinking you have to be quicker and then you don't get the same pitch and you don't recognize it and you expand the zone."

Kepler fouled the first pitch from Colome, a 94 mph fastball, but swung through two cutters, including the second pitch, which was in the dirt, and the third one, which caught the inside part of the zone.

"The last one was a borderline pitch, a good cutter," Kepler said. "I should've hit the first one. I almost caught it."

Kepler finished the night going 1-for-4, singling in the first inning. He picked up his first two career RBIs in Thursday's 6-4 win, including a double that left the bat at 111 mph, per Statcast™. He said that experience helped his confidence, but that he does his best to move on from each game, good or bad.

"That's already behind me," Kepler said. "And today is behind me. So we'll see what I can do tomorrow."

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.