CHICAGO — Jorge Polanco ranged to his right in the first inning Tuesday night, got his glove on Tim Anderson's grounder up the middle, and snapped a throw to first base before he even got another foot on the ground — a noticeably faster motion than he once used.
It was akin to the technique of another middle infielder standing about 40 feet away.
"If you pay attention to him, you know Andrelton [Simmons] is one of the best shortstops. I've done a lot of things with him that have helped me," Polanco said. "I'm not trying to be like him. I just copy some ways that help me, and make it look easy like he does."
The ease with which Simmons throws is particularly noteworthy; he sometimes even fires a ball across the diamond flat-footed, in order to save time. One good example: A double play against the Tigers in Target Field earlier this month, in which Polanco dove for a ground ball in front of second base, flipped the ball out of his glove to Simmons, who was standing on the base and fired a relay without moving his legs.
"It just happened, all reaction. I just dove and flipped it from the ground," Polanco said. "I didn't think about it, and he made that throw."
Advanced defensive statistics rate Polanco about an average second baseman, better than he rated at shortstop. Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said he's noticed Polanco's defense getting stronger, perhaps from Simmons' influence, and perhaps more because of his rising comfort level as his new position.
"It's related directly to his confidence. He's making certain plays, going in certain directions much more smoothly, quickly and more confidently," Baldelli said. "When I first showed up here, I didn't think he got rid of the ball that quickly. He and [third base coach] Tony Diaz spent a lot of time working on throwing from different angles, throwing on the run. He's significantly more comfortable doing all of these things."
Does he miss being the shortstop? "I do. I mean, I like shortstop. I started at shortstop playing since Little League. It was kind of my thing," Polanco admitted, one day after filling in for Simmons during Monday's doubleheader. "But I love second base, too. I want to play anywhere. I just love playing baseball."
Splitting the catching duties
Now that Mitch Garver is back, Baldelli must determine how to split the catching duties. He intended it to be close to 50-50 with Garver and Ryan Jeffers when the season began, but that changed when Jeffers was sent to Class AAA on April 29. He was recalled June 2, after Garver suffered a severe groin injury.
"Are we going to put a number on exactly how many games each guy is going to catch every week? I would say no. I'd say it's going to be a rough split," Baldelli said. "Over time, if there is a guy that's playing especially well, someone may be catching four games a week, someone may be catching three games a week. Both are going to play, though."
Speaking of catchers, every manager fears running out of players who can play the position. The Twins might be more at risk than normal, with only two experienced catchers on the roster, one of whom is returning from a serious injury.
So who is the emergency catcher?
Josh Donaldson, a catcher in the minor leagues, volunteered for the job, Baldelli said, but he's leery of risking the third baseman's health.
"In a true emergency, Simba [Simmons] is probably our guy," Baldelli said. "I do not believe he has done it before, but if there's a guy you're going to trust on the baseball field and it has something to do with catching the ball and thinking, it's going to be him."
That was news to Jeffers. "I'm surprised it isn't [Miguel] Sano, actually," he said. "You know, just get the biggest target, someone who can get a glove on the baseball."
- Most of the Twins' 21 picks in last week's draft have been flown to Fort Myers, Fla., and are expected to sign contracts in the next day or two. The only draftee not expected to sign is Texas Tech righthander Brandon Birdsell, who announced on Twitter that he intends to return to Lubbock for another season.
- When umpires inspected Tyler Duffey's cap and glove as he entered the game Monday, something fell out of his cap, which an umpire quickly grabbed. A nail file for scuffing the ball? A tube of sticky stuff? "It was my cheat card," and not that kind of cheating, Duffey said with a laugh. "Reminders of how we're pitching to guys." The umpire returned it to him.
- Kenta Maeda will travel to Minnesota on Wednesday ahead of the team, which has a night game to play, in order to prepare for Thursday's start against the Angels.