Kepler gets rid of ‘curse’ and Twins reap the rewards

Table of Contents Cruz back in the lineupPineda to start WednesdayEtc.Over 70% off!99u00a2 for first 4 weeks$3.79 99u00a2 a week Wade Boggs would eat chicken before every game. Babe Ruth didn’t want anyone else using his bats, believing there were only so many hits in each. Superstitions and baseball go […]

Wade Boggs would eat chicken before every game. Babe Ruth didn’t want anyone else using his bats, believing there were only so many hits in each. Superstitions and baseball go hand in hand, and Twins outfielder Max Kepler displayed his Sunday and Monday.

About a week and a half ago, Kepler purchased a chain necklace from a friend who is a jeweler and wore it during games. He wasn’t liking the results, which saw him in a 2-for-18 slump that included nine strikeouts in five games from June 24 to Friday.

“I haven’t been wearing it the last two days,” Kepler said Monday night. “I believe there’s bad juju in it. I need to get rid of whatever curse that chain had.”

Consider the bad juju gone, at least for now. On Sunday, Kepler hit his seventh home run of the season during the Twins’ 6-2 victory at Kansas City. He followed that on Monday with a two-run shot in the second inning and a solo blast in the eighth as the Twins held off the Chicago White Sox 8-5 in the opener of a three-game series at Target Field.

“I took it off and started to hit the ball,” said Kepler, who is 3-for-7 with the two homers, four RBI and four runs scored in the past two games.

Kepler was back in the lineup Tuesday, playing right field and hitting sixth while facing White Sox lefthander Carlos Rodon.

Twins manager Rocco Baldelli likes the approach Kepler has been taking recently in trying to turn around a difficult, injury-hampered season. Entering Tuesday, Kepler was batting .209 with nine homers and 31 RBI in 49 games. That’s a big drop-off from his breakout 2019 season when he belted 36 homers and drove in 90 runs while batting .252.

“Kep’s been doing a good job, obviously swinging the bat really well,” Baldelli said. “He’s been a guy who’s been a cog for us for a long time, and he’s heating up right now.”

On Monday, Kepler’s first homer was a laser to right field, but he showed power the other way with his eighth-inning blast off White Sox reliever Ryan Burr.

“Not necessarily going the other way but trying to get on top of balls that pitchers are throwing up in the zone,” Kepler said of his approach. “Before that at-bat, I asked Polo [Jorge Polanco] if he’s ever faced Burr, and Polo said he throws a fastball up, so stay on top. I was just trying to put a simple swing and stay on top and through the ball. When you try to do small things, big things happen.”

Baldelli sees a hitter who’s more comfortable at the plate of late.

“He’s pretty confident in the way he’s swinging the bat,” he said. “I don’t think he’s second-guessing anything at all.”

Cruz back in the lineup

Nelson Cruz returned to the Twins lineup as designated hitter after sitting out the past two games because of a stiff neck. Baldelli said Cruz believes he hurt his neck while violently coughing. He has been battling a chest cold for weeks, and he visited a doctor on Monday as a precaution.

“We didn’t find anything out, and that’s probably a good thing,” Baldelli said. “It’s probably a lingering cough from a chest cold. … Everything came back OK. He’s fine, he’s ready to play.”

Cruz, 41, leads the Twins with 18 homers, 45 RBI and a .306 batting average. In 25 games since June 1, he’s hitting .367 with six doubles, eight homers, 20 RBI, 14 walks and a .453 on-base percentage.

“I don’t think he’d still be playing if he didn’t have this kind of enjoyment from showing up at the ballpark,” Baldelli said. “He makes the most out of it. He knows he’s played for as long as anyone could ever hope, but he doesn’t take any of it for granted.”

Cruz’s energy, Baldelli said, is contagious.

“It helps everybody else — when things are going good, when things are not going good,” Baldelli said. “You have this guy next to you who isn’t just a great player but is a great human being. He sets a great tone in this clubhouse and everywhere else.”

Pineda to start Wednesday

Twins righthander Michael Pineda, out since June 14 because of soreness in his right forearm, will start Wednesday’s 12:10 p.m. game against Chicago. “His bullpen [session] went great, and he will be ready to go tomorrow,” Baldelli said.

Etc.

  • The White Sox placed catcher Yasmani Grandal on the injured list because of a torn tendon in his left knee suffered Monday night, and recalled catcher Seby Zavala from Class AAA Charlotte. Grandal is expected to miss four to six weeks.

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