After batting practice Saturday, new Twins pitcher Chase De Jong made a beeline for the small section of gathered fans behind home plate. He gave hugs, signed balls and autographed one of his old Mariners jerseys.
A pretty impressive group for a guy who has played only seven major league games and who the Twins only called up Tuesday. The assembly was actually all family, as De Jong’s father grew up about four hours from Minneapolis in Maurice, Iowa.
“I think there’s over 200 people now,” De Jong said of Morris. “But when he was growing up, it was like 190 people.”
De Jong grew up in Long Beach, Calif., spending his summers in Iowa while his grandparents spent their winters in SoCal. So the 24-year-old will have familiar faces in the crowd when he makes his first start for the Twins at 1:10 p.m. Sunday to finish out a series against the Kansas City Royals.
His most recent major league outing was for Seattle at Target Field in June 2017, and the pitcher said he’s excited to be on the home team side now. He said he’s looking forward to displaying his four-pitch mix and showing his aggressive style.
When De Jong does make his start, he will be the 53rd Twin to play this season, which tops last year’s club record of 52.
“It means that there’s opportunity here for me, which is a wonderful thing to know going into tomorrow and through this month and then ultimately into spring training,” he said. “They’re looking for guys, and opportunities are definitely open.”
Twins manager Paul Molitor echoed that sentiment.
“We’re in a position to take a look at some guys that potentially might impact our future as far as a pitching staff and wanted to give him an opportunity to come up here and get acclimated to the environment of this team and organization and players as well as get a chance to pitch a little bit,” Molitor said.
Outfielder Max Kepler hasn’t had an extra-base hit since Aug. 23 and is just 6-for-44 in that span. Considering he has 48 extra-base hits this year, that’s quite the drop-off. But Molitor said that’s just the product of normal ups and downs.
“He’s still trying to figure out, like a lot of guys in their second, third go-rounds, how to push himself to the end. Last year, there was a big team goal that was dangling that I think pushed everyone a little bit. Different circumstances this year,” Molitor said, adding Kepler hasn’t looked too comfortable in the box recently.
Molitor decided to put Eddie Rosario at designated hitter Saturday as a way to ease him back into the lineup. He returned Friday after missing six games because of a leg injury, but Molitor said Rosario still wasn’t at 100 percent confident after pushing it Friday. Rosario went 0-for-3 Saturday.
“It is concerning, but we’re getting down to the end where we think we can manage it by being a little bit smarter,” Molitor said.
The manager said Tyler Austin will be out through the weekend because of a sore back but joked that extra motivation could help him make a comeback next week when his former team, the New York Yankees, come to town.
Miguel Sano slid hard into second Tuesday and hasn’t played since because of a sore left knee. Molitor said the MRI was clear, so it’s just a matter of when Sano feels up to playing.
“I’m not sure if that’s going to be today or tomorrow,” Molitor said pregame Saturday. “We’d like to maybe see if he can take some swings to see if that’s something that’s comfortable and maybe be available off the bench.”