CHICAGO — Luis Arraez wants to earn his batting title and play it through to the finish. But after he went all-out from second to home while scoring on a single in Detroit on Saturday, he got up gingerly and was clearly feeling the effects of the left hamstring pain that has been hampering him for much of the second half.
Considering Arraez entered Monday with an AL-best .315 batting average — four points ahead of Aaron Judge — these plate appearances he’s missing are very significant in a tight race that holds historical significance, as Judge winning the batting title would also earn him the second Triple Crown since 1967. And yes, the Twins are aware of that significance.
“I want to win the batting title fighting,” Arraez said.
“I’m judging this based on how he’s doing physically,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “This is baseball history. This is a batting title race. These things are important to all of us. Very important to Luis as well and every other player involved. I know that.
“But if our guy, who is a gamer and who takes the field every day for us, can’t swing without hopping on one leg and can’t run to first base or score on a base hit, then I think it’s hard to put him out there. So again, we’ll continue to evaluate him and hopefully he improves.”
Arraez has been dealing with the hamstring issue for three months, he said, but he’s been able to mostly play through it until his condition worsened of late. After he had to score from second on that play in Detroit, he went to his manager and told Baldelli that he probably wouldn’t be able to do that again.
He estimates that he’s only been running at about 60 percent, with pain when he stretches for the ball while playing in the field at first base, too. In fact, Baldelli said that Arraez might already have been shut down for the season had it not been for the context of this batting race and the importance of the feat for both Arraez and Judge.
“Right now, he’s physically not in as even as good of shape as he’s been much of the last month or so,” Baldelli said. “We’re just kind of boiling it down to simple things: Can he score on a base hit right now if 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 base hit. I think he’s pretty close to having to go base to base, which I don’t think is reasonable to kind of force him into dealing with.”
Baldelli held Arraez out of the lineup on Sunday while Judge went 0-for-3 with a walk and three strikeouts. Baldelli said that Arraez is still being evaluated and worked on by the strength and conditioning staff, with the hope that Arraez could be available for pinch-hitting duties on Monday or a potential return to the lineup on Tuesday, depending on how he feels.
Arraez was hitting .338 at the end of the first half, leading to his first career All-Star selection for the Midsummer Classic in Los Angeles. But the hamstring has taken its toll in the second half, when he has hit .286 while Judge has closed the gap.
A first career batting title would mean a lot to him, a testament not only to his hitting ability but to the work he put in this offseason to strengthen his legs to help him endure the rigors of a full season — and he insists that he wants be out there, on the field, seeing it through to the finish.
“We’re at a point right now where if he could be out there, if I could reasonably think he could go out and play first or DH today, he would be in the lineup,” Baldelli said. “I had to make the call knowing what I know about how he’s moving and what he’s going to be capable of, that he can’t play in this physical state.”
“Everybody knows I’m competing to win the batting title,” Arraez said. “Everybody knows I want to play every day. I work hard in my offseason for that. But 100 percent, I don’t feel good today. If I wake up good tomorrow, I’ll tell Rocco I’ll go play. I want to play. I want to finish my season strong. I want to play.”