Garver's approach pays off in big way for Twins

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Phil Miller, Star Tribune
·3 min read
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The Twins had a lot of reasons to celebrate their home opener on Thursday, from the fans sitting in the seats to the homers landing there. One that shouldn't be overlooked: Mitch Garver hit one of those home runs, arguably the most important one, and he did it by not trying to.

"I was not going to be in front of another changeup. I needed to get one of those runs in," Garver said of his third-inning at-bat against Seattle starter Marco Gonzales, with the score 1-1 and runners on first and third. "I spread out, man. I was making sure I was going to put a ball in play. I was really going with a contact mind-set."

It worked. With a 2-2 count, Gonzales tried that changeup, low and away. It flew high and far, far away, winding up about halfway up in the juniper bushes in center field, 435 feet away, the second-longest home run of Garver's career.

"We knew he was going to be around the zone and we knew the key was to be aggressive," Garver said.

Garver is one of the keys for the Twins. Two years ago, one of the biggest reasons the Twins won 101 games was their ability to brutalize lefthanded pitchers, better than any team in baseball this century over a full season. That skill abruptly vanished in 2020, when the Twins were mostly mediocre against lefties, their OPS plunging from .872 to .658.

Garver, whose own OPS against lefthanders fell from an incredible 1.170 to a still-respectable .819 — his success against righthanders cratered to a .102 average and a .365 OPS — knows he was part of the reason why. He's just as certain that it was a fluke.

"I would call it just that. Maybe just the idea, know that the season is going to be longer than 60 games" makes a difference, he said. "It's not a sprint this year, you know? It's more of a marathon. Get your hacks in. Get out there and work on your approach. Just being able to go out and know you have more at-bats coming is a better feeling."

Manager Rocco Baldelli has a lot better feeling about his team's chances against lefthanders like Gonzales if Garver belongs in the middle of that lineup.

"From the beginning of his big-league career, he's been a very good hitter, especially against lefthanded pitching," Baldelli said. "It's about adjustment-making. A guy like Garv just has that ability to have good at-bats, learn from his previous at-bats, then make the adjustment and put it all together."

Making adjustments is a little easier this year, too. MLB banned in-game use of video last year as a way to prevent teams from stealing signs the way the Astros had. That took away the ability of players like Garver and Nelson Cruz, who thrive on gathering information early in the game for use later.

This year, MLB has issued iPads for players to use during games, and it could make a big difference, Garver said. As proof, his last three at-bats Thursday were three of the four hardest-hit balls he's had this season.

"It's super helpful. I like the way we're doing it now more than I had in the past," Garver said of the Twins' former video room set up just outside their clubhouse. The iPad "updates every half-inning, so you go out to play defense, and when you come back in, you look at your at-bats. Multiple angles. It has all the information on it that you need."

Phil Miller covers major league baseball and the Twins for the Star Tribune. E-mail: phil.miller@startribune.com. Twitter: @MillerStrib.