MILWAUKEE – When you look at Luis Arraez, you don’t think run production. When you watch him hit, you think table-setter.
When you focus on his bat-handling skills, you think No. 29. And so does he.
“I talked a lot with Rod Carew in 2019 about that,” Arraez said. “I hit the ball a lot the other way. A lot of line drives. He said, ‘Hey, do it. Do it a lot of times. If you hit the ball the other way, you’ll get a lot of hits.’
“So I’ve got to do it. Because Rod Carew, he’s an amazing hitter. Amazing hitter. He’s a machine hitter.”
Challenging his inner Rodney has Arraez looking like the 2019 Arraez. He finished the three-game series against the Brewers by going 5-for-10 with five walks, cementing his status as the best option for the leadoff spot in a lineup with teammates who are long off the tee. On Sunday, Arraez ignited the Twins’ 8-2 victory over Milwaukee by going 3-for-3 with two walks, a performance that included a single toleft, a single to center and a double to right.
That’s called sprinkling the outfield.
“Today, I saw the pitcher,” Arraez said. “I felt amazing today. I want to hit the ball wherever they pitch me. Inside, outside, I want to hit the ball. That’s why I hit the ball really good today.”
Like a machine.
“He’s awesome,” said Michael Pineda, Sunday’s winning pitcher. “Wow. He’s unbelievable. He has great energy. Everybody loves to see him just play baseball. I love to see Arraez play baseball. I love it.”
His opening-series performance drove home points that Arraez, entering his third season, should be in the lineup as much as possible wherever he can fit defensively — like a Marwin Gonzalez with better bat-to-ball skills — and hit at the top of the order.
He lined out in his first at-bat of the season Thursday, forcing a diving stab by Milwaukee shortstop Luis Urias. Arraez would not be denied a second time, as he waved his bat like a wand and flicked a Brandon Woodruff fastball for an opposite-field single.
Arraez got one of the Twins’ four hits in Saturday’s 2-0 victory, a two-out RBI single that doubled his team’s lead in the eighth inning. And then he had his way with Brewers pitching on Sunday.
In addition to great bat skills, Arraez is a strike zone savant, taking borderline pitches with conviction, often shaking his head on pitches he believes are balls.
“I try to distract the pitcher and the umpire,” Arraez said. “When I say, ‘No, no, no,’ too hard, I start to talk to the umpire and say, ‘Hey, sorry, my bad.’ But I’ve got to keep doing it because I stay focused and then if I don’t do it like that when I don’t shake my head, I start thinking too much, thinking too much, and then maybe I strike out too much.”
It trickles down through the rest of the batting order. Arraez saw 27 pitches over his first four plate appearances Sunday before doubling on the second pitch of his final plate appearance. His teammates get to see what the opposing pitcher has that day and can scheme accordingly. That’s the value of having a quality leadoff hitter.
Manager Rocco Baldelli has indicated that Arraez can get at least 400 plate appearances this season while moving around the field defensively — but the Twins will need him at third base for a while.
Thursday, Arraez was to start in left field, a position that has become available since top prospect Alex Kirilloff has been deemed to need seasoning in the minors. But Arraez never stepped foot out there, moving to third base in the first inning after Josh Donaldson tweaked his right hamstring, an injury that landed him on the injured list.
No problem, even Carew played a couple games at third in his career. Arraez can fit in wherever he’s asked, but the one position that means the most to him is at the top of the batting order.
And there should be no debate or statistical alchemy practiced to try to produce a better option for Baldelli than Arraez to lead off a super majority of the season.
“I’m really happy Rocco has given me the opportunity to lead off here early in the season,” Arraez said, “and to get on base and try to score runs and get it going for my team.”