FORT MYERS, Fla. – All the worry last season about whether Byung Ho Park could catch up to a major league fastball was silly, Twins manager Paul Molitor believes. Park can handle high velocity the same way every hitter does: by swinging at something else.
“I would say the mind-set is probably where the biggest adjustment is,” Molitor said of the Korean slugger, who clubbed a long home run over the center field wall in the Twins’ 8-7 loss to Boston on Saturday, his third hit in two spring games. Park then knocked in another run with a two-strike sacrifice fly.
Last season, when Park managed 12 home runs but faded to a .191 average in 62 games, “He had a little trouble mentally with velocity,” Molitor said. “He thought he had to do something different. So [pitchers] were able to speed him up and get him to expand [the strike zone], which opened up the outside for the slower stuff.”
Park hasn’t changed anything mechanically, not that Molitor has noticed. But he has changed. “I think his approach, from talking to him early, is that he’s going to try to stay more in the middle of the field, take advantage of counts, and make them throw what he can handle,” Molitor said.
When Pedro Sandoval, the Red Sox third baseman whose battles in controlling his weight are well-known, squared around to bunt in the second inning Saturday, Phil Hughes had the same thought that everyone else in JetBlue Park did: Yeah, right.
“I thought he was doing the old high school trick, where you wag the bat and pull it back,” Hughes said. “But he actually laid one down.”
Nearly beat it out for a hit, too, quite an achievement for a 255-pound-ish “Kung Fu Panda.” But Hughes scrambled off the mound and threw a strike to first base, just beating Sandoval.
“I had to kind of get moving there for a second,” Hughes said. “It’s probably the last thing I was expecting there.”
Nick Gordon, the Twins’ top-rated minor league prospect, has yet to be retired while wearing a big-league uniform. The 21-year-old shortstop lofted a two-strike single into short center field in the eighth inning, his first at-bat of the spring.
“It was a good at-bat. He put the ball in play with two strikes and was able to dump it in there. I like that he was under control on a couple of defensive plays that he had, too,” Molitor said of Gordon, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2014 draft, who likely will be headed for Class AA. “I’ll try to get him some time while I can, but I think he’s going to be one of those guys in camp who is going to learn a lot from watching.”
Brian Dozier will make his spring debut Sunday when the Twins play host to Washington at Hammond Stadium. Trevor May, trying to move from the bullpen to the rotation, will pitch the first two innings.