The Twins are tentatively planning to have Miguel Sano make his Class AAA debut in Rochester, N.Y., on Friday, the start of a rehab stint intended to prepare him to return from a hamstring injury.
How long Sano will stay in Rochester hasn’t been determined yet, Twins manager Paul Molitor said. Nor has one other important detail: What position will he play?
“They haven’t said anything to me” about where he will play once he is cleared to return, Sano said Tuesday. Is he still an outfielder? “I think so. Nobody has said I’m not.”
That’s because that critical decision hasn’t been made yet, Molitor said.
“That’s a fair question. In all honesty, we’ve been having discussions about how we want to integrate him back into games on rehab, as well as up here,” Molitor said. “It’s not finalized yet.”
The nature of Sano's injury makes the decision tricker. The 23-year-old, who started in right field 37 times in his first 50 games this season, strained the hamstring while running to first base on May 31, but potentially, there is far more running necessary in the outfield than at third base, his position throughout his minor-league career. And designated hitter is the safest position of all.
“I have asked [myself], if he was coming back from a wrist injury, would I treat going back in the outfield differently than a hamstring injury? And probably the answer is yes,” Molitor said. “It’s probably something to consider.”
So is the fact that Max Kepler is showing signs of making right field his permanent home. The 23-year-old rookie has improved as his playing time has increased, and entered Tuesday’s game on a six-game hitting streak. Since moving into the starting lineup on a regular basis 10 games ago, Kepler has hit .316 with two homers and five doubles.
Meanwhile, Eddie Rosario has gotten hot at Rochester (.344 with three home runs in June), and Robbie Grossman has excelled in left field.
“We have these parts here [and] we’re trying to find how they fit the best — including some other young outfielders that are doing fairly well,” Molitor said.
It’s possible that Sano could return to right field and Kepler move to center, a position that Byron Buxton and Danny Santana provide defense, but little offense so far. Or there could be a reshuffling of the Trevor Plouffe-Joe Mauer-Byung Ho Park trio at third base, first base and DH.
Molitor would like to settle on a plan by the time Sano leaves for Rochester, so he can focus on whatever position he, the coaching staff and general manager Terry Ryan decide. And no matter what, he intends for the burly 270-pound slugger to play defense somewhere “just to get on the field to prove, at least from a health standpoint, that he can do that.”
Sano’s health is no longer in doubt — as far as Sano is concerned. He crowed Tuesday about how well he performed in the series of running tests he’s undertaken over the past few days. “Feels good. I’m really good,” Sano said. “I want to play.”
He’s made that clear, Molitor said. “He’s hungry to get out and play. Between the diagnosis and our concern about making sure this is something that doesn’t get repeated, we’re proceeding cautiously,” the manager said. “I thought he had a really good day out there today. Running was what I was most concerned about. He’s been swinging the bat now for awhile.”
So Miguel, what’s it going to be? Back to the outfield, move to the infield, go back to last year’s DH spot, or some combo? “Wherever they want me to play,” he said agreeably. “They pay me.”
Sano, who took batting practice with his teammates once again, will be on the bench watching the start of a three-game interleague series tonight between the Twins and the Philadelphia Phillies, the first time these teams have met since 2013. Minnesota, which took two of three at Target Field in that series, sends Tyler Duffey to the mound tonight, looking for a turnaround.
Duffey has allowed at least four earned runs in each of his last six starts, and his ERA has ballooned from 1.85 on May 15 to 5.56 now.
The Phillies, 5-5 in interleague games, will sent Aaron Nola to the mound, a 22-year-old righthander. Nola is 3-1 on the road with a 2.27 ERA this season, but he has a 6.43 ERA in the first inning.
Ryan Howard, Philadelphia’s cleanup hitter and a former NL MVP, is batting .145 this season.
Here are the lineups for tonight’s game: