CHICAGO – With Rudy Hernandez’s help, Daniel Palka had what he believed was a breakthrough last October while playing in Venezuela. The Twins learned it the hard way Thursday, when Palka clobbered a Jake Odorizzi splitter 432 feet into the right field seats in the fourth inning, his second career home run.
The power-hitting outfielder worked daily with Hernandez, the Twins’ assistant hitting coach, while playing for Magallanes and discovered he could wait a split-second longer to recognize breaking balls, take them the opposite way, and still retain his home run power while cutting down on strikeouts.
“Everything really kind of clicked. Rudy helped me with my approach, and it made all the difference,” Palka said. “I feel about as good as I ever have as a hitter.”
And as his excitement grew over his results, he got an unexpected message: You’re not a Twin anymore.
“He was real surprised,” Hernandez said. “He said, ‘Rudy, you know anything about this?’ I said, ‘Yeah, they’ll call you tonight.’ ”
In clearing room on their 40-man roster, the Twins had decided to remove the 26-year-old Palka, and the White Sox claimed him on waivers. Now he is playing in the major leagues after experiencing “the best day of my life” last week, a day he believes is largely because of Hernandez and a couple of other Twins employees.
“If it weren’t for Doug [Mientkiewicz] in Double-A, I don’t know where I would have gone in my career,” Palka said of his manager at Chattanooga, let go by the Twins last winter. “I can’t even explain how, in every facet of the game, that guy knew things and had great input. He’s fun to play for, and he’s super-competitive.
“And when I got to [Class AAA] Rochester, it was the exact same way with [hitting coach] Chad Allen. Playing for Chad and Doug, that’s as good as it gets. So it was a great two years.”
In retrospect, it wasn’t a shock the Twins decided to let him go, Palka said, because they have young outfielders already in place. But he believes he’s a better hitter than the one who hit 46 homers over two years in the Twins’ system after being acquired in a trade with Arizona for Chris Herrmann.
“I don’t want to hit homers if it means hitting .220,” said Palka, who was 6-for-8 in two games at Kansas City last weekend, with two doubles, a triple and his first major league home run. “[In 2017], I cut it down to where I was striking out less than games played, but I wasn’t driving the ball as much. Rudy did some work with me, and I’m a better hitter now.”
Buxton closer than Sano
Byron Buxton is with the team on this road trip, and Miguel Sano is not. That might reflect the level of concern the Twins have about their respective conditions. “There might be some credence to that, that maybe there’s some optimism” about Buxton’s return sometime during this 11-day trip, Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “That’s a long stretch where he might have an opportunity to get himself ready to play.”
Buxton hit in the batting cage Thursday and will try to run on his fractured left big toe Friday, a sign he’s making progress toward a return. And it’s not certain the Twins would choose to send him on a rehab assignment, Molitor said.
“You can tell a little bit by his energy and his smile that he’s probably feeling a little bit better,” Molitor said. “I don’t really have a [return] date in mind. We’ll end up having to decide about what’s the right thing to do in getting him some at-bats, or just go ahead and plugging him back in.”
Sano worked out at Target Field on Thursday, but he’s not ready to run on his strained left hamstring.
Ichiro Suzuki, 44, was released Thursday by the Mariners and will become a special assistant to the team. Molitor, who worked daily with Suzuki as Seattle’s hitting coach in 2004, said he couldn’t have foreseen all the Japanese superstar would accomplish in the major leagues — until he watched him.
“Who’s going to come over here after getting 1,000 hits in Japan, and add 3,000 more over here? I mean the odds weren’t in his favor,” Molitor said. “But when you’re around that guy, you can see he’s wired differently. … He loved the routine of taking his swings in the cage every day. Just the anticipation of first pitch every night, and him being in the batter’s box, it was something special to watch him do that.”