TORONTO – Eduardo Escobar is aware there are scouts in the stands, watching him hit. If the Twins decide to trade him, he knows there’s nothing he can do about it.
But at least he’s driving up the price.
Escobar doubled and smacked his 15th homer Tuesday, backing the All-Star-caliber pitching of Jose Berrios as the Twins rolled to their second consecutive victory at Rogers Centre, 5-0 over the Blue Jays.
On the day he was chosen as the Twins’ winner of the Heart and Hustle Award — “They might have to add a third adjective to describe [his] power,” Twins manager Paul Molitor joked — Escobar displayed his value from the cleanup spot and stole the Twins’ RBI lead from Eddie Rosario. He also had a hand in four of the Twins’ five runs, scoring an insurance run in the sixth inning and driving in three more in the eighth.
With Manny Machado off the market, there are teams rumored to be shopping for corner infielders with punch, the Brewers and Phillies among them. Escobar, earning only $4.85 million this year with free agency looming in November, has to be an attractive commodity. That image wasn’t hurt by his double to center in the sixth, while batting righthanded, and his three-run homer — after working the count to 3-2 on nothing but John Axford fastballs, he feasted on a 3-2 curveball — that put the game away in the eighth.
“It’s a little difficult to hear those rumors going around,” Escobar said after maintaining his three-double margin for the MLB lead over Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor. “But I believe in God and have a lot of confidence in my abilities. I have no control over those things. The only thing I can control is that when I suit up, I work hard for my team.”
If Escobar’s future is murky, Berrios seems intent upon sending himself somewhere else: to another All-Star Game.
Looks like he wants to start next time, too.
Berrios turned a Blue Jays lineup that is normally potent at home into a series of harmless encounters and effortlessly racked up his 10th victory of the season. Toronto advanced one hitter as far as second base during the righthander’s seven innings, that on a pop-fly double fielded by the shortstop.
Twins pitching has held its opponent scoreless seven times this season, and Berrios has started four of them. No wonder he represented Minnesota — and pitched a scoreless inning for the American League — at Nationals Park last week.
“My first start after the All-Star break, I think I did well,” Berrios said. “If I do what I did [Tuesday], I’m going to do a great job in the second half.”
Molitor had given Berrios a few extra days off, in part because of his first-half workload. He’s only 33 innings away from eclipsing the career-high 166 innings he pitched in the minor leagues in 2015.
“It’s one start, but he looked refreshed,” Molitor said. “The velocity ticked up right away out of the chute, first pitch 94 [mph], and he kept it. He used his fastball a lot.”
Only once did he get into mild “trouble,” when Yangervis Solarte placed a perfect bloop hit behind third base, a double that shortstop Jorge Polanco raced over to field. Kendrys Morales followed with a line-drive single to left.
Berrios’ response? A 2-2 curveball on the outside corner that Russell Martin couldn’t reach for strike three, and a 2-2 curveball in the dirt that Randal Grichuk flailed at, ending the second inning.
“He’s learned how to throw that pitch for a strike when he needs to,” Molitor said of Berrios, who struck out nine and walked only one, “and he knows how to expand with it.”