CHICAGO — Luis Arraez wants to earn his batting title and play it to the end. But after going home from second while scoring on a Detroit single on Saturday, he rose cautiously, clearly feeling the effects of the left hamstring pain that hampered him for much of the second half.
Since Arraez came in on Monday with an AL-best batting average of .315 – four points ahead of Aaron Judge – these plate appearances he misses are very important in a tight race of historic significance as Judge would also win the batting title in the second Triple Crown since 1967. And yes, the Twins are aware of that meaning.
“I want to win the battle for the battle title,” said Arraez.
“I judge this based on how he is doing physically,” said manager Rocco Baldelli. “This is baseball history. This is a batting title race. These things are important to all of us. Also very important to Luis and all the other players involved. I know that.
“But if our guy, who is a gamer and who takes the field in front of us every day, can’t swing without jumping on one leg and run to first base or score on a single, then I think it’s hard to put him out there. So again, we will continue to evaluate him and hopefully he improves.”
Arraez has been battling the hamstring problem for three months, he said, but for the most part he has been able to get through it until his condition deteriorated recently. After he had to score from second place on that stretch in Detroit, he went to his manager and told Baldelli that he probably couldn’t do that anymore.
He estimates that he only runs at about 60 percent, with pain when he reaches for the ball while also playing first base on the field. Baldelli even said that Arraez might have been shut down for the season had it not been for the context of this battle race and the importance of the performance for both Arraez and Judge.
“At the moment he is not in as good shape physically as he has been in the past month or so,” said Baldelli. “We’re just trying to put it down to simple things: now can he score on a single when he’s on second base? The answer is, I don’t think so. I don’t think he could go hard and score on a single I think he’s pretty close to going from base to base, which I don’t think is reasonable to force him to deal with.”
Baldelli kept Arraez out of the line-up on Sunday, while Judge was 0-for-3 with a walk and three strikeouts. Baldelli said Arraez is still being evaluated and is being worked on by the strength and conditioning staff, with the hope that Arraez could be available for squeeze duties on Monday or a possible return to the lineup on Tuesday, depending on how he feels.
Arraez hit .338 at the end of the first half, leading to his first career All-Star roster for the Midsummer Classic in Los Angeles. But the hamstring took its toll in the second half, hitting .286 as Judge closed the gap.
A first batting title would mean a lot to him, a testament not only to his batting prowess, but also to the work he’s put into this off-season strengthening his legs to help him endure the rigors of a full season — and he insists he wants to be there, on the field, see it to the finish.
“We are now at a point where if he could be there, if I could reasonably think he could play first or DH today, he would be in the lineup,” said Baldelli. “I had to make the decision, knowing what I know about how he moves and what he will be capable of, that he cannot play in this physical state.”
“Everyone knows I’m fighting for the battle title,” Arraez said. “Everyone knows I want to play every day. I work hard for that in my off-season. But 100 percent, I don’t feel well today. If I wake up well tomorrow, I’ll tell Rocco I’m going to play. I want my season close strong. I want to play.”
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