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Cruz doing more by doing less in historic run

@dohyoungpark
August 4, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS -- Given the talent on this Twins offense, it was only a matter of time before they would put up a crooked number again at some point. It sure helps to have Nelson Cruz doing ridiculous Nelson Cruz things, too. The Twins are plenty used to the offense’s elder

MINNEAPOLIS -- Given the talent on this Twins offense, it was only a matter of time before they would put up a crooked number again at some point. It sure helps to have Nelson Cruz doing ridiculous Nelson Cruz things, too.

The Twins are plenty used to the offense’s elder statesman accomplishing eye-popping feats at the plate. Still, Cruz starting the season 14-for-19 (.737) with runners on base is rather absurd, even by the slugger’s lofty standards. Minnesota’s lineup broke out of a mini-slump in a 7-3 win over the Pirates at Target Field on Tuesday, and unsurprisingly, Cruz was right in the middle of the action with a team-leading three hits -- all with runners on base.

Box score

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Cruz is the first hitter in the expansion era (since 1961) with 14 hits in his first 19 at-bats of a season with runners on base.

“I knew I was doing good, but I didn’t know the numbers, no,” Cruz said with a laugh.

“I’ve always been like that,” he added. “Through the years, I find a way to get a better approach and understand what the pitchers try to do in different situations of the game. I guess experience in this one pays off.”

Minnesota has won five straight games and improved to 9-2, matching the 2001 Twins and 1930 Senators for the best 11-game start in franchise history.

That’s not a bad way to complete a homestand in which the club went 7-1 despite the challenges of returning from a road trip in the time of COVID-19, exacerbated by a virus scare with the visiting Cardinals.

“After a long homestand, the guys kept their focus and just continued to go out there and have great at-bats, pitched well, played well in the field,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I think our guys showed a lot of different things today. It was a great way to cap off a great homestand and a memorable one at that, too.”

Despite adding Josh Donaldson to an already record-setting offense during the offseason, the Twins entered Tuesday’s game having scored 15 runs over their last five games with a .723 team OPS -- just above league average. That doesn’t have much to do with Cruz, who is not only hitting .395/.435/.674 with a 1.109 OPS, but also leads the Majors with 15 RBIs.

After knocking three hits and driving in a pair in Monday’s series opener, Cruz continued with singles in his first three at-bats in Tuesday’s contest, contributing to a trio of run-scoring rallies. He singled and scored in the first as part of a three-run rally, knocked an RBI hit in the second and singled to load the bases in the fourth before Eddie Rosario brought home a run.

All told, Cruz was 5-for-6 with runners on base and 4-for-4 with runners in scoring position in the past two games against the Pirates, including his walk-off single on Monday night. He’s also 9-for-12 with runners in scoring position to open his 2020 campaign.

That situational hitting is no coincidence. Cruz draws upon his extensive experience to simplify his plate approach based on the game situation, which could explain why much of his production with men on base has come via the humble single. Nine of his 14 hits in such scenarios have come via one-baggers, with three doubles and a pair of homers mixed in.

“I’m not the fastest guy on the team, so I guess my job is, when I find runners on base, try to drive them in,” Cruz said. “My approach, I guess, changes. Instead of trying to hit the long ball or crush baseballs, I try to be more simple and go with the pitch.”

The veteran led the charge as every member of the Twins’ lineup reached base at least once in a well-rounded attack against a wild Pirates pitching staff, which issued eight walks in the game. That was more than enough to support a strong outing from Opening Day starter José Berríos, who worked through some early wildness to hold Pittsburgh to one run and four hits over six innings, his first quality start of the season.

“You watch Nelson at work and you realize that he does all the very exciting things like hitting home runs and hitting the ball as hard as he does, but I think he actually tries to do less in those moments,” Baldelli said. “I think he understands what pitchers are also trying to accomplish, and he understands that very, very well. And he can use that to his advantage.”

Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.