Notes: Hunter's streak fueling Twins

Notes: Hunter's streak fueling Twins

MINNEAPOLIS -- Torii Hunter's current 20-game hit streak is impressive on any level.

But it's the timing of the streak that Twins manager Ron Gardenhire believes has been the biggest upside for the club.

"It's a heck of a streak and with everybody beat up, we really need it right now," Gardenhire said. "We need Torii to keep going for us."

Hunter has not had much trouble getting things going during this current streak, the longest currently in the Majors, as he's hitting .378 with 12 doubles, five home runs and 16 RBIs over 20 games.

The club has had its everyday Nos. 3 and 4 hitters, Joe Mauer and Michael Cuddyer, miss time due to injuries, and left fielder Rondell White is on the DL with a torn right calf muscle. With so many injuries, Hunter is needed as a veteran presence to help carry a scuffling offense.

But while he's being counted on to produce, Hunter said the streak is not something that is consuming him.

"When you play in the game, you don't look at all that," Hunter said of the streak. "I just see that we're losing and I want to help my team out."

"All I'm doing is continuing what I did then," Hunter said of his approach at the plate. "My swing is the same and I'm trying just to keep it that way."

Hunter's doubles output has dramatically increased. Over the final two months of '06, Hunter had just nine doubles. This year, he already has 15. A part of that has to do with his increased speed, now completely healed after suffering an ankle injury in July of '05.

But while Hunter believes his improved health has played a role in his improved numbers since August, he has also attributed the improvement to a change in his approach at the plate that came with the help of one of his teammates.

"Last year, I think I became a better hitter," Hunter said. "And it had something to do with me watching Joe Mauer and what he was doing. I analyze my teammates or my opponent. If I like something they do, I try to imitate it or mimic it. I like how he lets the pitcher come to him. I don't want to lose my aggressiveness, but I'm trying to become patiently aggressive."

So far, that strategy appears to be working. But Gardenhire believes Hunter's success will go beyond just a consecutive hits streak.

"It's a sign of where he's at in his career," Gardenhire said. "He's now understanding a little more about what a pitcher is doing to him and what they are trying to do to get him out."

Catching conundrum: The Twins were without their starting catcher again on Sunday, and it's unknown just how long he could be out with the injury.

Mauer underwent an MRI on Sunday morning on his left leg and it revealed a strained left quad muscle. There was some bleeding on the muscle as well, and the team said it would make a decision after the game on whether the injury will require a stint on the disabled list.

Mauer didn't look very encouraged when he arrived in the clubhouse early Sunday morning, as he said the leg was still bothering him quite a bit.

"I feel pretty sore," Mauer said after the MRI. "It's real tight right now.

Taking their toll: The Twins' long list of injuries has started to catch up with the club, and making a lineup for Sunday's game against Curt Schilling's Red Sox wasn't the easiest task for Gardenhire.

"It's been a stressful day," Gardenhire said before Sunday's game. "Trying to match up [Schilling] with your three and four hitters out of the lineup is tough enough. But guys have to step up and do the job."

With Mauer out, Gardenhire shifted the order of his lineup, putting Hunter in the No. 3 slot and batting Justin Morneau cleanup. Jeff Cirillo was then placed in the fifth spot after putting together an at-bat on Saturday night that Gardenhire called the best of the game. The hope for the Twins is that Cirillo can continue to deliver more at-bats when his knee is deemed completely healthy.

"He's a veteran hitter that knows the strike zone, and once he gets going we hope to see more of those," Gardenhire said. "He can hit. He really knows how to hit."

Twins tidbits: Nick Punto was not given the start at third base on Sunday, but Gardenhire said it was because he wanted to give Luis Rodriguez some at-bats. With Mauer questionable for Sunday's game, Rodriguez is the team's only backup catcher for Mike Redmond. ... Punto's first error of the season in Saturday's game was erased when there was a change in the scoring and Kevin Youkilis' ball was ruled a hit. ... The expectation is that Michael Cuddyer will be ready return to the lineup on Tuesday. If that's not the case, Gardenhire said the team might have to make some decisions, but Cuddyer feels he will be ready to go.

Minor honor: Triple-A catcher Jose Morales was named the Twins' Minor League Player of the Week for the period ending May 4. Morales hit .458 (11-for-24) in seven games with three doubles, three RBIs and six runs scored. The third-round draft pick in 2001 is hitting .364 on the season, currently second-best in the International League behind teammate Matt Tolbert (.400).

Down on the farm: J.D. Durbin faced some of his old teammates as Triple-A Rochester defeated Ottawa, 3-2, on Sunday in Game 2 of a doubleheader. Durbin picked up the loss as he gave up three runs on seven hits over 4 2/3 innings. Alexi Casilla went 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI in the win. Rochester and Ottawa split the doubleheader, with Kevin Slowey picking up his first loss of the year as he gave up two runs on seven hits over seven innings in a 2-1 loss.

Coming up: The Twins will enjoy an off-day at home Monday before opening up a three-game series with the White Sox on Tuesday. Right-hander Boof Bonser will get the start in Game 1 on Tuesday as he faces off against White Sox right-hander Javier Vazquez in the 7:10 p.m. CT contest.

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.