Twins alter lineup, shift Hicks to eighth spot

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins finally moved Aaron Hicks out of the leadoff spot.

The 23-year-old Hicks, who made his Major League debut on Opening Day this season, has started 10 games as the Twins’ leadoff hitter. But he’s batting eighth in Tuesday’s lineup against the Angels. Meanwhile, second baseman Brian Dozier will take Hicks’ leadoff spot.

Hicks has struggled in his brief time in the majors. After drawing a walk as a pinch hitter Monday, he is now batting just .047 with a .128 on-base percentage — not ideal numbers for a leadoff batter.

The Twins hope the move down in the lineup can allow Hicks to relax a bit as he looks to regain his confidence. He’s shown he can hit in the minors; he batted .286 with 13 homers and 61 RBI last year at Double-A New Britain. He also had an impressive spring and earned the starting center field job in camp.

So far, it hasn’t translated to the majors.

“Just move it around and mix it up a little bit and see what happens,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Tuesday’s lineup. “See if he can put some swings out there and take all that thought process out of it and hopefully just get up there and take a whack.”

Hicks drew a walk in the eighth inning of Monday’s win after falling behind 1-2 before working the count full. He then stole second base — the first steal of his major league career — and later took third on a wild pitch in the dirt that didn’t get very far away from Angels catcher Chris Iannetta.

Hicks and Brian Dozier eventually came around to score on a double to left by shortstop Pedro Florimon to push Minnesota’s lead to 7-2.

“Good at-bat, good base running,” Gardenhire said. “A big time in the game. He got on base and had a quality at-bat. He didn’t chase. We’ve seen him do it a million times in Florida. Now carry it up here and go from there. Hopefully he’ll get deep into the game and we’ll have a good time out there.”

Mauer excels with two strikes: Joe Mauer can hit. The Twins catcher has shown that throughout his career and has won three batting titles. But Mauer showed Monday that he’s also a very skilled hitter in a situation in which most batters aren’t: hitting with two strikes.

Three of Mauer’s four hits Monday against Los Angeles came with two strikes in the count, including an 0-2 pitch that he singled to center to drive in the final run of the game.

In his career, Mauer is a .256 batter and owns a .310 on-base percentage with two strikes. Those numbers are obviously lower than his career numbers, but they’re impressive stats in a tough situation.

“It takes courage in the first place. Not that many guys want to get to two strikes and stand there and fight pitches off,” Gardenhire said. “But it’s not like he fights balls off. He puts as good of swings on with two strikes as he does any other time in the count. You just have to have a lot of confidence in knowing the strike zone and trusting your hands, and he does that. He can flat-out hit, let’s just put it that way.”

Break in the weather: Tuesday’s weather may be the best the Twins have had yet at Target Field this season. Sunday’s game against the Mets was postponed by snow and rain, and Monday’s game was 38 degrees at first pitch.

It was around 45 degrees on Tuesday afternoon, so Minnesota took advantage of the warmer weather and rare sunshine by taking early batting practice on the field, something they haven’t had much of a chance to do yet this year.

“Today out there was like Florida again, it seemed like,” Gardenhire joked.

While the Twins won’t make any excuses about the chilly weather they’ve endured early on, Gardenhire did admit that it can take a toll when a team plays in cold temperatures for two straight weeks. Minnesota didn’t really get a break from the weather during its first road trip to Baltimore and Kansas City. The upcoming road trip to Chicago likely won’t be much warmer, either.

“It’s not the easiest thing to do,” Gardenhire said. “It’s definitely different when it’s cold. You don’t want to go out there. … Today was a nice day to get out in the sun. I would say yes, it definitely is a little rougher playing in this cold weather constantly everywhere we’ve been.”

Miracle off to 12-0 start: Thanks to a seventh-inning grand slam Tuesday by top prospect Miguel Sano, the Fort Myers Miracle — Minnesota’s High-A affiliate — are off to an impressive 12-0 start.

Sano hit a grand slam in the seventh inning to give the Miracle a 7-4 lead, which held as the final score. The 12-game winning streak matches a team record for the most consecutive wins, as Fort Myers also did so in 1995 and 2007.

After Tuesday’s home run, the 19-year-old Sano has four home runs and 12 RBI in 12 games this season. He’s also batting .413 for the Miracle this season.

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