Miguel Sano walked to home plate seven times Thursday. He made seven outs. He hit one ball out of the infield and struck out three times.
Sano is striking out in almost half his at-bats. His failures at the plate Thursday likely kept the Twins from winning a game they lost 5-2 in 18 innings, making it the longest game in Target Field history.
This means, of course, that it is time for the Twins to release or demote Sano, right?
Nope, and nope.
Sano is desperately in need of a reset. If the Twins roster wasn’t shredded because of injuries, they might have already temporarily benched him or sent him to the minors to work on his swing.
But the injuries are real and present. The Twins are without Byron Buxton and Eddie Rosario, and Max Kepler is playing through a bruised elbow. Outfield options Marwin Gonzalez, Ehire Adrianza and Willians Astudillo are also on the injured list.
Because the Twins needed Sano in the lineup Thursday, he played on a day he should have been working on his swing. That he batted ninth, behind Jake Cave, tells you how far he has fallen.
Sano has earned the ire of Twins fans with his recent performances, but this is no time to give up on him. His primary problem right now is mechanical, and mechanics can be fixed.
Sano is dragging his bat early in his swing. That is keeping him from getting around on 93-miles-per-hour fastballs he used to crush, and because he knows he is prone to swinging late, he is starting his swing early, causing him to check-swing at breaking pitches.
It’s the kind of chain reaction that can ruin a career. But if Sano can fix that one flaw, he could return to being an All-Star-caliber player.
“We’re working on getting my hands into position,” Sano said. “We still have the second half of the season.”
Sano made two fine fielding plays in extra innings, an indication he is alert and into the games. He is in good shape for a player who was robbed of spring training because of a lacerated foot, and he was chipper enough this week that he recorded a video asking fans to vote for his teammates on the All-Star ballot.
“He wants to be good,” Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey said. “He wants to put in the time and the effort. I think he’s continued to mature as a hitter, and understand there are some things that he needs to work on.
“Sometimes maturity comes with acceptance and a willingness to work on things. Sometimes the immature hitter says, ‘I’m good’ and doesn’t want to change anything.”
Falvey and manager Rocco Baldelli said Sano is working on a specific part of his swing. The odd aspect of his slump is that he isn’t chasing pitches out of the strike zone — which was his former flaw. He is simply missing hittable pitches in the heart of the plate for the first time in his career.
“Clearly there are some pitches that it feels like he’s not getting to, that he is capable of getting to,” Falvey said. “It’s not a question of bat speed. There are maybe some things with his load and the way his hands work behind that are going to allow him to be more on time.
“He’s a tick late consistently on some of the pitches up, and that’s the area I think he wants to be focused. Rocco said he’s been super-accepting and amenable to those conversations and making sure that he’s working smartly.”
By “load,” Falvey means Sano’s first motion, in which he loads his weight on his back foot.
The chain reaction that is destroying Sano’s stats right now could work in reverse. If he can start hammering fastballs again, he will again become the fearsome hitter he was early in his career.
Sano could still be great. Even if he just returns to being good enough, he can help this team, this year.