MINNEAPOLIS -- Following a rough Spring Training, Rob Refsnyder decided to remake his swing. Ten seasons into his professional career. At age 30.
The longtime journeyman went to the alternate training site in St. Paul, Minn., and identified some tweaks with Triple-A hitting coach Matt Borgschulte. He remade his batting stance. He changed the timing of his stride. He found something that worked -- and waited for opportunity to call.
He’s made the most of it.
Every time the Orioles scored a run on Tuesday, the Twins had an immediate answer -- and Refsnyder was in the middle of all three of those rallies. His second-inning RBI double tied the game. He followed his fourth-inning double by scoring an insurance run. And his second homer of the season went to the opposite field in the eighth inning, pushing the Twins to a 7-4 win over Baltimore at Target Field.
“I think the opportunity, a lot of the time, is the most important part,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “And just having the ability to go out there and get the at-bats at the big league level and being trusted in certain spots and allowing yourself to kind of shine through in that sense.”
As if that wasn’t enough, he added another diving catch in center field -- where he’d never played in the Majors before this season -- for good measure.
Refsnyder’s continued run of shocking success, combined with two-hit games from Alex Kirilloff and Mitch Garver, pushed the Twins to their first three-game win streak and their first consecutive series victories since the first week of the regular season.
“You always want to put together some good series and some good wins,” Kirilloff said. “It’s kind of what we’ve all been waiting for.”
Even during Spring Training, Borgschulte told Refsnyder that he thought there was more to be unlocked in his mechanics. When camp broke, Refsnyder resolved to take the three to four weeks before the Minor League season to really mess with things.
They found that Refsnyder would get almost stationary in his mechanics following his stride, which led to a rotational swing that caused him to chop more grounders to his pull side.
Now, his batting stance is more crouched, with his hands much higher. He made an adjustment to develop a more fluid motion and transfer his energy towards the middle of the field in his swing.
“I'm trying to get a little bit of a running start, try to have a toe tap where my hands come down with it, so it's an equal and opposite,” Refsnyder said. “As I go forward, my hands start to come back up.”
He noticed an immediate difference. Later, when he measured his exit velocity on a practice homer, he found a nearly 10 mph difference.
“I was like, 'This is a no-brainer. I just need to keep going with this,’” Refsnyder said.
“He’s a cerebral player, and he pays attention to the details of his swing,” Baldelli said. “He always has, and I think that’s who he is.”
For many players, April workout days at the alternate training site were spent counting down the days until the Minor League season started in May so they could finally see real game action. But Refsnyder cherished every one of those opportunities for his performance at the plate not to count.
“It was such a great blessing to be at the alternate site,” Refsnyder said. “Even if I go 0-for-my-next-10, if there's something I think I might be a little better at, this is a low-pressure situation. So it gave me the freedom to be able to fail. I think you guys have seen it now. I'm 30. If I was to fail in Triple-A for a month, I'd probably get released, to be honest.”
He got his big league opportunity on May 15 when injuries to both Byron Buxton and Jake Cave necessitated his callup to back up Max Kepler in center field. Then, Kepler tweaked his hamstring, making Refsnyder the Twins’ emergency starting center fielder. He’d never played there in five MLB seasons and had made 14 Minor League appearances there in 673 games.
He collected two hits in his Twins debut. Two days later, he notched his first career four-hit game. He’s now hit safely in five straight games, starting in center field in each one.
Sometimes, it just takes a consistent opportunity. He didn’t get that too often in MLB stints with the Yankees, Blue Jays, Rays and Rangers. He has one now -- and he’s going to force the Twins to think hard about their roster when Buxton could be activated from the IL in the coming weeks.
“I'm trying to think of the right word -- I guess blessed,” Refsnyder said. “Jake Cave is one of my closest friends. You don't want to see Jake hurt. [Buxton], I mean, Buck is such a special player. I'm just trying to hold down the fort until Buck gets back. That's how I feel. He's a special player.
“I think we're all just trying to do that -- it's cliche, but find a role and just stick to it and keep it going."