Motl returns to top of the lineup after face injury

by Ben Gotz

A pitch to the face couldn’t knock the humor out of Dan Motl.
The junior center fielder went down in the first inning on April 19 after being hit up high against Penn State and left the ball game right away. But later that night, new puffy face and all, Motl stuck out his front teeth and posted a photo on Twitter with the caption: “seems fitting that I play for the Gophers huh.”
Nine games later, Motl returned to the Minnesota lineup against North Dakota State, and his team is happy to have him back making cracks at the plate instead of on social media.
“He’s the prototypical leadoff hitter you want,” redshirt sophomore Matt Stemper said. “It was nice to see him back out there.”
After struggling out of the gate early this season, Motl turned red-hot in the leadoff spot for the Gophers. The center fielder went on a 17-game hitting streak that stayed alive despite his injury, though it ended in Motl’s first game back Tuesday as he tried to knock the rust off at the plate.
“It’s got to end at some point. That’s kind of the attitude I had with it,” Motl said. “To be honest, I don’t really care that it’s over. It takes a lot of pressure off.”
When his hitting streak began on March 13 against James Madison, Motl’s batting average was only .152. Now, his average is up to .325, good for second best on the team.
Motl’s on-base percentage is also second on the team, though the player in first, Cody Campbell, only has one plate appearance. When Motl was hit by another pitch Tuesday in his return to the game, he pushed his on-base streak to 19 games.
Motl’s high on-base percentage made him a great leadoff hitter for the Gophers after a change in his approach at the plate helped lead him to success.
“I was being more aggressive early in the count. I was taking more time between pitches,” Motl said. “[I] just kind of took pride in that as far as taking my time at the plate [and] really being disciplined as to what pitch I wanted and attacking those pitches.”
Without Motl, the Gophers struggled to score as many runs. The team scored more than two fewer runs per game when Motl was injured than their season average.
“We don’t have a true leadoff hitter like [what] Danny was doing in that position,” head coach John Anderson said Saturday after the Gophers’ loss to UC-Irvine.
Anderson was forced to change around the Gophers lineup a lot while Motl was out, and the team went 3-6 while waiting for the Burnsville native to return.
Motl said he practiced extensively over the weekend to get ready for his return, adding that he felt more comfortable being back at the plate with every at-bat on Tuesday.
If Motl can return to the same hitter he was before his injury, it would be a tremendous boost for the Gophers at the end of the Big Ten season as they try to make it into the conference tournament at Target Field.
His big hitting streak is over, but Motl is ready for the next one to begin.
“Of course, it’s got to come to an end,” Motl said. “So definitely ‘go start up a new one’ is the attitude I have.”