Michael Cuddyer's flexible game plan and iron philosophy
He owns not the talent of Mauer, the pub (good or bad) of Morneau, the history of Thome, or the youth of Span, Valencia and Young.
Yet Michael Cuddyer endures among the most veteran, venerable, and valuable of Minnesota Twins both past and present.
Should he play in every game though October 2nd, he'd then reach his Minnesota Millennium, becoming just the 31st Twin to play in 1,000 ballgames for the club and the first since Torii Hunter reached the milestone in June of 2006.
In a bit of irony, Justin Morneau concluded last season with 43 more games played than Cuddyer, and appeared set to become the next member of said list.
Yet in what has segued from the Twins' rise last fall, the ballclub has continued to thrive with Cuddyer at first filling in for an injured Morneau.
After going 17-4 down the stretch to close out '09 with Justin down with a stress fracture in his back, the Twins this year have again found a Morneau-less surge with a lineup that shifts Cuddyer to first, Jason Kubel to right and Jim Thome to oft DH. Since Morneau departed the lineup with after suffering a concussion on July 7th in Toronto, the Twins have gone 27-13.
Last year, in spreading play over four positions (not including DH), Cuddyer hit .265 in 114 games while playing right. At first? He clubbed .319 over 34 games and made a lone error. The batting surge via positional switch in 2010 has mirrored last season effort. This year, while displaying continued malleability, Cuddy has played five different positions. In 61 games playing right this season, he's hit .260. In his 46 games at first? He's hitting .303 with, again, only one E-3 to his credit.
Before a game against Seattle in recent weeks, Cuddyer said of the surge-by-switch:
"I think it's coincidental. I don't think there's anything to it. I always hit better later in the year-- last year it was September when I played first and this year it's been the beginning of July into August. So, I think that actually has more to do with it than the position move."
Regarding his ability to play with success at multiple positions, he added:
"I don't like to label myself. I think once you that then you start limiting yourself. Just
because I played right field everyday I didn't consider myself just a right fielder. I consider myself a baseball player. I work at every position because I like playing the game. Today: I took grounders at shortstop. Will I ever play short? Probably not.
"You have to drop your ego," Cuddyer continued. "Most guys, they become established at one particular position and don't want to move. Whether it's for the good of the team or not, they feel like they've earned or deserve the right to play at that position and only that position. The second thing is takes is that you have to keep the team as the big focus. Obviously, you get comfortable at one position without a preference to move. But if it's for the betterment of the team you do it willingly."
But does Cuddyer ever find frustration at first, in that he isn't able to employ that rocket right arm?
"Yeah, I do," he said, with a typically Cuddy smile. "I actually take it out on J.J. [Hardy] and Valencia and those guys when I throw it around the horn after an out. I chuck it pretty good."
Yet of all the spots played in his Twins career -- one may be surprised which serves as Cuddyer's position:
"I like middle infield. Second base is probably my favorite; I like being in the middle of the action."
Curious, as he's hit just .248 there in 57 career games there, nearly 50 points worse than his lifetime clip at first. Nonetheless, there will always be a spot somewhere for Cuddy -- the rare baller who meshes a flexible game plan with an iron philosophy.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss City Pages' biggest stories.