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Pop at top: Dozier likely to remain leadoff hitter

Sano finds power stroke; Berrios adds chapter to strong spring
MLB.com @RhettBollinger

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Second baseman Brian Dozier hasn't hit anywhere but leadoff in the Twins' lineup since July 30, 2016, and it doesn't appear that's going to change to open the 2018 season.

Dozier has hit first in all seven of his games this spring, including in Friday's 4-3 win over the Rays, and Twins manager Paul Molitor said he's not looking to move Dozier in the lineup -- even though he's not a prototypical leadoff hitter with his combined 76 homers over the last two seasons.

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PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Second baseman Brian Dozier hasn't hit anywhere but leadoff in the Twins' lineup since July 30, 2016, and it doesn't appear that's going to change to open the 2018 season.

Dozier has hit first in all seven of his games this spring, including in Friday's 4-3 win over the Rays, and Twins manager Paul Molitor said he's not looking to move Dozier in the lineup -- even though he's not a prototypical leadoff hitter with his combined 76 homers over the last two seasons.

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"Knowing the person and what he does in that role and how much he enjoys that role and the fact that it's worked makes it hard for me to be overly eager to find something different," Molitor said. "From analytics or anything else that might suggest that you might want to try something different."

Center fielder Byron Buxton, who stole two bases on Friday, served as leadoff hitter early in camp when Dozier wasn't in the lineup, but has mostly been hitting fifth or sixth this spring, including batting sixth on Friday. Molitor said he expects Buxton to move up and down the lineup based on matchups, as he might hit earlier against lefties, but could bat later against tougher right-handers.

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"Against left-handed pitching, maybe sometimes [early in the lineup], but I kind of like the fact he stretches it out and rolls that lineup over to some capacity," Molitor said. "He played in the sixth spot a lot last year."

Shortstop Jorge Polanco is another interesting case, as he was the club's No. 3 hitter down the stretch last season when Miguel Sano was out with a stress reaction to his left shin. But with Sano healthy, Polanco is likely to hit in the latter third of the lineup, with the top of the order expected to include Dozier, Joe Mauer, Sano and then either Logan Morrison or Eddie Rosario hitting cleanup.

"He'll see different places, but I think the Morrison addition, in particular, is going to affect where some guys hit," Molitor said. "You just get them to try to see that if they're not hitting in the top third, we're just trying to stretch our lineup as best as we can."

Video: MIN@TB: Sano homers twice against the Rays

Sano doubles up

Sano hadn't homered coming into the game, but crushed a pair of solo blasts. His first came off right-hander Andrew Kittredge in the opening frame and traveled to dead center, while the second was against lefty Vidal Nuno in the third and was a towering shot to left.

"I tried to make good contact through the middle," Sano said. "It was an inside pitch and I tried to react on the first one. And the second one I got out front."

Video: MIN@TB: Berrios fans Gomez in the 2nd inning

Berrios solid

Jose Berrios, who remains lined up to be the Opening Day starter, went four innings, giving up one run on three hits with one strikeout. He threw 56 pitches, with 41 going for strikes. The lone run he allowed came on an RBI double from C.J. Cron in the fourth.

"Between this start and the last one, I worked in the bullpen trying to be in line to home plate and not pull off," Berrios said. "That's what I felt today. I felt better."

Camp battles

• Right-hander Phil Hughes threw a simulated game of three innings and 40 pitches back at the club's Spring Training complex in Fort Myers, Fla. Hughes worked on his changeup and slider without having to worry about the results in a game. Hughes, competing for the final spot in the rotation, will start again Monday night against the Yankees.

Robbie Grossman, competing for the final bench spot, went 1-for-3 with an RBI single, while first baseman Kennys Vargas went 1-for-2 with a stolen base and a run scored to improve his average to .318. Zack Granite went 0-for-2.

• Right-hander Tyler Duffey, who is competing for a long-relief role, threw two perfect innings with one strikeout to lower his spring ERA to 5.40. Rule 5 Draft right-hander Tyler Kinley threw a scoreless ninth with one hit allowed and two strikeouts. He lowered his ERA to 3.60 and is making a solid case to make the roster.

Injury updates

• First baseman/designated hitter Morrison was held out of the lineup on Friday after suffering a right glute strain while running the bases on Wednesday. Morrison is also expected to miss Saturday's game, but the injury isn't considered serious.

Up next

• Right-hander Kyle Gibson is slated to make his third start of the spring on Saturday against the Red Sox at 12:05 p.m. CT at Hammond Stadium on MLB.TV. Other pitchers scheduled to see action include Zach Duke, Addison Reed, Fernando Romero, Gabriel Moya and Jake Reed.

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.

Minnesota Twins, Brian Dozier, Phil Hughes