Kepler finding new approach against lefties

Outfielder has homered in two straight starts vs. left-handed pitching

September 23rd, 2017

DETROIT -- With Max Kepler's struggles against left-handers this season, manager Paul Molitor has mostly sat him against lefties in recent weeks, even using infielder in the outfield to replace him.

But Molitor has given Kepler two straight starts against lefties down the stretch, and both times Kepler rewarded him with homers. After a solo homer off on Tuesday -- his first homer off a lefty all season -- Kepler followed with a solo blast and an RBI single off lefty on Friday to help the Twins to a much-needed 7-3 win at Comerica Park.

Kepler, though, said he doesn't see it as a statement that he can hit lefties, as he's always believed that, but feels he was in a rut where he was thinking too much about the results.

"I don't look at it like that," Kepler said. "I just got my pitches and hit 'em. It doesn't matter what side it's coming from. I'm just trying to be more selective. I guess I was put into a situation that was blown a little bit out of proportion out there so I was antsy, but I've been finding my patience."

Kepler entered the game hitting .134/.203/.196 with a homer, two doubles and a triple in 124 plate appearances against lefties this season. But Kepler fared better against lefties as a rookie last year, hitting .203/.273/.322 with two homers in 133 plate appearances. He also hit .319 against lefties in the Minors in 2015, when he was the Southern League MVP.

But Molitor said Kepler sometimes looks like he's trying to feel for the ball at the plate against lefties instead of being aggressive with his swings. With Kepler's defensive ability, however, he stuck with him against Sabathia and Norris, and it paid off both times.

"He has probably had to sit and watch more than I'd like," Molitor said. "We shut him down a little bit. But in this park and with the importance of pitching and defense down the stretch, I think that's been the biggest part of my decision while hoping he'd respond offensively and he's done that."

Kepler's solo homer in the fourth was crushed, leaving the bat at 105 mph and traveling a projected 414 feet, per Statcast™. It was the farthest he's ever hit a homer off a lefty. And he added an RBI single in the fourth that he smacked the other way on a 1-2 slider.

"He turned that one around," Molitor said. "He was confident and was looking for something to handle. He let it fly. I thought his next at-bat was a battle, getting to two strikes before hitting it to left-center was huge, too. Hopefully he's getting his confidence back."

Kepler said his confidence has grown recently, but the 24-year-old admitted it's still a process not to overthink things at the plate, especially against lefties.

"I'm always soaking up everything that comes at me during a game," Kepler said. "I haven't figured out how to shut off the feelings or thoughts completely yet. But I'm learning from my mistakes and it's a process."