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Minnesota second baseman Brian Dozier rounds the bases after hitting a home run against the New York Yankees on March 14 at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla.
USA TODAY Sports Minnesota second baseman Brian Dozier rounds the bases after hitting a home run against the New York Yankees on March 14 at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla.

Dozier brings some power to the Twins’ leadoff spot

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By Brian Murphy

St. Paul Pioneer Press

Brian Dozier lost some defensive cachet last year when the Twins relieved his command at shortstop and stationed him at second base to fill a gaping hole at the position.

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He regained stature offensively, seizing the leadoff spot after rookie Aaron Hicks bombed. Dozier clubbed 18 home runs as an unlikely slugger in Minnesota’s low-wattage lineup.

And after a steady performance throughout spring training, Dozier has secured a permanent home at the top of the lineup. His mission in 2014 is to get on base more like a leadoff hitter without sacrificing the power that allowed him to set the Twins’ single-season record last season for home runs by a second baseman.

“It’s definitely not a ceiling,” Dozier said about his 18 home runs. “I never want to lose that just because I’m in the leadoff spot. I feel like I’m a guy that’s not just your typical get-on-base guy, which is my No. 1 priority. But I don’t want to lose being aggressive and an RBI guy who can hit the ball out of the park. I think I can handle both.”

Manager Ron Gardenhire has total confidence in Dozier not only for his pop at the plate but the way he took ownership of second base and quietly matured as a professional.

“You get to the point where you don’t worry about guys. I just let him go,” Gardenhire said. “The kid can hit. He’s starting to feel good. He’s healthy. He’s definitely one of our leaders out here. The kid has stepped up, and that’s saying a lot for him. The kid knows the game. He has a pretty good plan out there on the field.”

Only New York’s Robinson Cano hit more home runs last season than Dozier among American League second basemen. Dozier also slugged .414, just behind Boston’s Dustin Pedroia.

However, Dozier’s .310 on-base percentage was atypical for a table setter. Among 25 leadoff hitters with at least 300 plate appearances last season, Dozier ranked 24th. Only Atlanta shortstop Andrelton Simmons (.256) was worse at getting on base.

Last season Dozier slumped out of the gate before settling into a hitting groove in mid-May. He only started 74 games at leadoff, and acknowledged he still is growing into the role.

“You can look at numbers. I made an adjustment, and that’s when it took off. I started feeling comfortable again,” he said. “Gaining power and seeing pitches longer, picking up speed earlier, that’s going to enable me to get on base more. I have to do that at the top of the order with the guys that are hitting behind me.”

The Twins have used 28 different leadoff men this spring, led by Alex Presley, whom Houston claimed off waivers this week. Dozier led off seven straight games before yielding to Jason Bartlett in Friday’s game against the Boston Red Sox.

Dozier’s command at leadoff has relieved some pressure on Hicks, who struggled mightily in the role last year before being banished to the minors. Hicks has hit safely in 13 of 16 spring games, mostly from the comfort of the seventh or eighth spot in the lineup.

“I don’t want Hicks worrying about where he’s hitting,” Gardenhire said. “Just put him down there and let him swing. He’s already come up and asked me, ‘Am I going to hit eighth this year?’ I just told him, ‘Pray you’re in the top nine and you’ll be fine.’ “

Gardenhire expects Dozier to work pitchers deep into counts and still remain aggressive, a delicate balance for a No. 1 hitter.

“As he goes along, he’ll take a few more walks, but I don’t mind him swinging,” Gardenhire said. “I’ve had guys in the 1-hole that aren’t on-base guys. Jacque Jones. Believe me, he wasn’t a leadoff hitter. But he was also a guy who could make it 1-0 real quick.

“Sometimes you go with what you’ve got. I don’t have a prototype, a (Denard) Span guy that takes a lot of pitches. So we put Dozier in there. I think he’s going to hit .300, and he can drive a ball too. Stick (Joe) Mauer right behind him ... I think those are two guys who can do pretty good together.”

Dozier quickly has learned how to adapt in the big leagues. The highly touted prospect had a messy debut as the Twins’ everyday shortstop in 2012, getting demoted that August to the minors to straighten out his swing and confidence.

Falling in line has worked out pretty well for Dozier both in the field and at the plate.

“I thought I’d always be a shortstop. When they came to me and told me forget about shortstop and play second base, you have that mentality that you do what your boss says,” he said. “That’s what stuck. That’s where I’ll probably always continue to be. Same with hitting leadoff. You play to be an everyday player in the big leagues, and I’m looking forward to a good season.”

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.

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