You can't stage much of a race if one of the contestants is limping around on injured legs. But that's the state of the American League batting race at the moment.
Luis Arraez sat out Sunday's series finale in Detroit, the third game he's missed in a week, after Twins manager Rocco Baldelli watched his first baseman play the field with limited mobility a day earlier. Benching Arraez, who holds a narrow advantage over New York's Aaron Judge for the American League batting title, had nothing to do with protecting his lead, Baldelli said, and everything to do with protecting his future.
"You could see the way he was moving around yesterday on the field," said Baldelli, describing Arraez's hamstring as "just OK" over the past few days. "If he was completely healthy, he would have been in the lineup today. That's what we're probably going to have to work through from here until the end of the year."
Arraez's lead grew wider as he sat, since Judge went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts and a walk in the Yankees' 3-1 loss to the Orioles. That leaves Judge's average at .3113, trailing Arraez's .3155.
The Twins have three games remaining, starting Monday in Chicago, while the Yankees go to Texas for the final four games of their season, including a doubleheader on Tuesday. Baldelli said he would like to put Arraez in the lineup, but he can't guarantee it.
"We'll be keeping a close eye on him. He's been dealing with this, to one level or another, for a while now," Baldelli said. "It's affecting his ability to run, his ability to defend, sometimes his swings."
Still, Arraez is 9-for-22 (.409) in his last five games, so he's adding to his average when he's able to play. He adds to the clubhouse energy, too, the manager said.
"Every guy in the clubhouse, every staff member, every person here gets excited every time he steps to the plate. And every time he whacks one and it gets through the infield, you see the dugout come alive," Baldelli said. "It's an enjoyable thing for everyone here."
When a curveball bounced in the dirt and ricocheted under Ryan Jeffers' mask in the seventh inning Sunday, Baldelli walked out to make sure Jeffers was OK.
Turns out, he was checking the wrong guy.
As the Twins' manager turned to return to his dugout, he noticed Tigers coaches yelling at him and pointing to the mound, where Trevor Megill was standing with the infielders around him.
"Their dugout was waving me down," Baldelli said. "That was helpful of them to let us know we had a player that might have been hurt."
He was. Megill was experiencing tightness in his right oblique as he warmed up, the manager said, and he was pulled without throwing a pitch. Jorge Lopez took over instead of Megill, who "acknowledged that his side was not in great shape," the manager said.
Megill said he could pitch through it, but "if he tears the [muscle], his entire offseason is going to be spent rehabbing an oblique," Baldelli said. "Obliques are not something to mess with."
Eventful debut for Woods Richardson
It takes years to get to the majors, so when you finally arrive, you want to spend as much time on the field as you can.
Well, in theory. Throwing 29 pitches in your first big-league inning is probably a little too much.
That's what Simeon Woods Richardson endured Sunday, thanks to a debut inning that included a walk, a hit, three Twins errors, an 11-pitch at-bat by Riley Greene and a nine-pitch at-bat by Miguel Cabrera. He walked back to the dugout nearly a half-hour after arriving on the mound, a little dazed, a little exhausted.
Pitching coach Pete Maki did a quick system reset with his 22-year-old rookie.
"Pete was like, 'OK, it's done. It's done now. Let's get back to work. Get back out there and put up some zeroes,' " Woods Richardson said of the Tigers' two-run inning. "So that's exactly the mindset that I had. The first one's out of the way. Now you can only build from there."
He did, completing four more innings and allowing only two more hits and one run, delighting the throng of friends and family who had arrived from Texas for the occasion.
"I called everybody [Saturday, when he was told he'd start], saying 'Get here as quick as possible,' " Woods Richardson said. "For the [short] notice, everybody did a great job of showing up. I didn't expect that many people. But the whole gang was there, both sides of my family. All my cousins. Everybody."
They watched him work through his nerves, walking the first batter in the first and second innings. "I believe it was just jitters," he said, and they started before he even took the mound. "The walk [from] the bullpen, walking in, seeing the point of view that I had, I was like 'OK, it's for real. It's serious.' "
And he learned, he believes, the secret to success in major-league pitching. "Execution. Executing pitches. Knowing when to throw what, and where to throw it. That's kind of it," Woods Richardson said. "If you hit your spots, it'll probably go in your favor. If you miss, you'll get capitalized."