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Twins’ Garver off to a hot start this year

Minnesota’s Mitch Garver, shown after hitting a home run against the Mets April 10, has outstanding numbers for the Twins.

HOUSTON — Anything but ordinary.

It’s a fitting description for the month Minnesota Twins catcher Mitch Garver is having.

Going into Wednesday night’s game against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park, Garver had eye-popping April statistics listed next to his name. Perhaps most notably the Albuquerque native was batting a cool .405 — a superb average for any player regardless of month.

Garver’s torrid (and strange) April ride doesn’t stop there. Consider:

■ The former La Cueva Bear and UNM Lobo has twice belted two home runs in a game. The first such outing came against New York Mets ace and reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom.

■ Garver joined a short list of catchers who’ve batted leadoff, doing so twice in the past week.

■ Garver not only leads the Twins in batting average, on-base percentage (.439) and slugging percentage (.919), he ranks second among American League catchers with five homers.

Not bad for a guy who’s made just eight starts and played in 11 of his team’s 22 games.

Asked about his somewhat erratic role this season, Garver smiled and shrugged.

“I don’t know,” he said prior to sitting out Wednesday’s game. “Hopefully I’ll be a full-time player at some point but we’ve got three catchers on our roster right now. We all bring something different to the table and we’re winning. That’s always the primary objective.”

Minnesota is 13-9 after Wednesday’s 7-1 loss to the Astros and lead Cleveland by a half game atop the AL Central standings. Garver, 28, has done his part and credits offseason adjustments for making a difference. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound catcher decided to take a page out of the slugger’s baseball handbook.

“I wanted to up my power numbers and not spray the ball around as much,” he said. “Home runs are the most efficient way to score. That’s the way baseball is going and that’s where the contracts are.”

So far so good for Garver, who hit seven home runs in 2018, his first full season in the majors. But Garver and Twins manager Rocco Baldelli insist the increased power numbers are not a matter of hunting fastballs and swinging for the fences.

“I am trying to pull the ball more and trying to hit it in the air,” Garver said, “but I feel like my plate discipline is a lot better, too.”

Being right-handed hasn’t necessarily been a bonus for Garver this season. Tuesday’s game was the Twins’ first against a left-handed starting pitcher, and one of Minnesota’s other catchers, veteran Jason Castro, bats left-handed.

Still, Baldelli is well aware of the offensive numbers Garver is posting. The Twins’ first-year skipper said he’s also been impressed with Garver’s work behind the plate.

“Honestly, I’ve got nothing but praise for the way Mitch has played,” Baldelli said.

That’s good news for the former ninth-round pick who steadily worked his way up the organizational ladder after being drafted in 2013. Garver will be arbitration-eligible after the 2020 season and believes he’s entering the prime of his career.

If so there could be many more head-to-head matchups against his friend and fellow Albuquerque-native Alex Bregman — something Garver relishes. Bregman, the Astros’ third baseman, got the better of things in Tuesday’s 10-4 Houston win — but just barely. With the score 4-4 and runners at second and third in the seventh inning, Garver hit a line shot to the fence that Astros left-fielder Michael Brantley leaped to catch.

“Needed about another foot on that one,” Garver said.

Such was not the case April 9, when Garver twice took deGrom deep. Garver remembers the pitch sequence of each at-bat, especially the latter — which ended in a towering shot to left.

“It was a 2-2 count and he’d been pitching me away,” Garver said. “He kept shaking off signs and I knew he wanted to come inside. He did and I got that one.”

Garver had another two-homer performance Saturday in Baltimore and believes there could be more big nights to come.

During the offseason Garver and his wife, Sarah, purchased a home in Albuquerque. They since have adopted two pet Boxers.

Now all the budding .400 hitter needs is more playing time.

“Hey, I’m only 40 at-bats into the season,” Garver said. “Baseball has peaks and valleys and this month has been a huge peak. I just want to avoid the huge valleys and help us keep winning. Putting up numbers is more fun when you win.”

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