Posted at 11:40 AM on May 27, 2007
by David Zingler
Nick Punto was one of many pleasant surprises for the Twins in 2006. His hustle provided a spark, his bat improved dramatically and he filled in the organization’s black hole at third base more than adequately.
As most fans are aware, 2007 hasn’t been nearly as kind to the 29-year-old. The veteran infielder is hitting .231, reaching base at a .326 clip, slugging .295 and appears to have lost his stranglehold on the hot corner.
Always a stand-up guy, I spoke to Punto about 90 minutes before Saturday’s game as he examined a new shipment of game bats...
ME: You guys have been on a little bit of a roll lately – won a couple of series in a row – what do you think has been the difference?
PUNTO: We’ve been hitting the ball a little bit better, gotten more consistent pitching and just playing all together – doing the little things. We are playing pretty good baseball right now.
ME: You’ve been playing shortstop again lately, what kind of transition has that been?
PUNTO: It’s similar because I am on the same side of the field (and) the spin (of the ball) is the same. There’s a little more responsibility, but I am pretty used to it. I played shortstop for a lot of years, so it hasn’t been too much of a transition for me.
ME: Did it take a game or two before you felt back at home?
PUNTO: It definitely took a game to get my feet under me.
ME: When Jason (Bartlett) gets healthy again, will you go back to third?
PUNTO: I am sure. Yeah.
ME: Personally, you haven’t gotten out to the start you wanted. Do you look at the stats?
PUNTO: No...I don’t really worry about my stats.
ME: When you are not hitting well, does that ever transfer over to your defense?
PUNTO: No, never. I take too much pride in my defense to ever let (offensive struggles) affect me or affect my team. The one thing I can control is how I play defense. Offensively, you have no control – just hit the ball hard, that’s all you can do – you might make a lot of outs. Defensively, you have control – I never take my at-bats to the field with me.
ME: You and Mike Redmond like to joke around and keep things loose. How did you become partners in crime?
PUNTO: We just kind of clicked when we met here and we’re locker mates. That’s one thing we can do – keep things light, keep people laughing – we feed off of each other.
ME: Had you met him before (joining the Twins)?
PUNTO: Just played against him. I was in Philadelphia; he was in Florida. We played against each other in our own division.
ME: When you joined the Twins (in 2004), you had a two-flapped batting helmet, what happened to that?
PUNTO: I got rid of it that year. It was just for base running. When I bat left-handed, my left ear is open, so anytime I slide first into second base, (my left) ear is wide open.
ME: Earlier in your career, you battled some injuries, but – knock on wood – you’ve stayed healthy the past couple of years. Is that just luck or did you change something?
PUNTO: I definitely changed my program a couple of years ago, put in some pilates and yoga. The key to being durable is flexibility.