HOUSTON – The swing won’t work, Chris Colabello has been told. Maybe you can rack up big numbers in the minor leagues by standing away from the plate, reaching for pitches and driving them to right field, but big-league pitchers will figure that out and sling pitch after pitch through the hole in your swing.
Yeah, Colabello’s heard about the thumbs-down scouting reports, and even he admits, “I haven’t played here long enough to know if it’s going to work or not.”
He uncovered some new evidence Monday, though. Colabello, angry at himself for striking out with the tying run on second base in the eighth inning, drilled a first-pitch fastball into the Astros bullpen in the ninth, a grand slam that completed a Twins comeback for a 10-6 victory at Minute Maid Park.
“I’ve never seen anybody with that kind of opposite-field power,” said catcher Chris Herrmann, whose two-out walk loaded the bases for Colabello’s big moment.
“That’s the hardest place to hit it out, and he hits it out with ease.”
Colabello did it twice, lacing a solo shot to almost the same spot in the fourth inning; the two homers and five RBI are career highs — and confidence builders.
“When I get away from my approach, stuff like the last couple of weeks happens,” Colabello said of his 0-for-23 skid that dropped his batting average below .200 before ending Sunday. “I’ve been working really hard in the cage and [batting practice] to try to get back to my stroke.”
His timing couldn’t be better, given that the Twins traded away Justin Morneau on Saturday, leaving Colabello the only true first baseman on the major league roster. Despite his International League MVP trophy and 31 home runs between the majors and Class AAA this season, more than anyone in the Twins organization but phenom Miguel Sano, Colabello doesn’t seem to be anyone’s favorite to claim Morneau’s job as his own next year.
Maybe Joe Mauer will move, or Morneau will come back, or a trade can be made, Twins fans speculate; oddly, nobody seems eager to believe in a guy who nearly led his league in homers this year despite playing barely half the games.
His age, 29, is surely part of the reason, not to mention his background in independent ball instead of a major league organization. His sub-Morneau-level defense probably plays a role. And that unorthodox approach — it invites doubters, Colabello realizes. And it’s turned him into a bit of an evangelist for his believe-in-yourself mindset, since so few others seem to.
“I read a good article about Chris Davis the other day. A lot of people said he couldn’t do it,” Colabello said of the MLB home run leader. “Every day is a battle — not with the pitcher, but with the pitch, with the ball. As hitters, our biggest goal and our biggest challenge is swing at strikes, stay consistent with your approach, and do what you do.”
If what he does is hit home runs and create offense, the Twins will ignore the scouts, too.
“He is a left-center-to-right field guy. You saw the power today,” manager Ron Gardenhire said after Colabello created with one swing the Twins’ biggest inning in more than three weeks. “Those were some pretty nice swings.”
He wasn’t the only one making them. The Twins equaled their season high with four home runs, including solo shot by Trevor Plouffe and Brian Dozier, the latter pulling within one of Morneau’s team lead with his 16th homer. And they needed them all, having fallen behind 5-1 after two innings.
The Twins kept chipping away, and Colabello had a chance to tie the score in the eighth, but looked at strike three. Pedro Florimon brought that run home with a two-out single, setting up the ninth-inning dramatics.
And making a case for next year.
“He’s just going to have to stick with his approach for a while,” Herrmann recommended. “I just feel like, if he sticks with what he does best, he’ll be fine.”