NEW YORK — I was surprised to discover that Tommy Milone has never pitched in Yankee Stadium. I knew already that Max Kepler had never played here.
Both will make their debut here tonight with large responsibilities.
For Milone, it’s his first start in the major leagues since April 25, when he gave up seven hits and two runs against the Indians. He was demoted to the bullpen, then to the minors, but the lefthander impressed manager Paul Molitor with how he responded, going 4-0 with a 1.66 ERA in seven starts.
“He’s fresh and he’s been able to maintain his feel with a couple of bullpens,” Molitor said. “[The Yankees are] kind of loading up on hitters from the right side, but sometimes that works to his advantage, because of his ability to throw that changeup and use his off-speed stuff.”
For Kepler, it’s a chance to hit in the middle of the order again: For the second time this season, he’s batting fifth in place of Trevor Plouffe, who is sidelined by a groin strain.
“We’re limited here with Trevor’s injury. Generally you like to protect your young guys a little bit in terms of putting them into bigger roles, but that’s where he fit the best,” Molitor said. “It should be fun for him, really. I mean, hitting in the middle of the lineup, you’re playing in Yankee Stadium, it’s going to be a new experience for him. He’s settling in, little by little.”
Not so little, lately. Kepler has had a hit in his last nine games, going 12-for-32 in that span with five doubles and a homer. He’s adapted so well that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to picture the Twins moving him out of his right field spot when Miguel Sano returns next week from his hamstring injury.
So maybe it’s no coincidence that Molitor said before the game that Sano will play third base and designated hitter this weekend at Class AAA Rochester, with no mention of right field. The Twins may still be sorting out their next move, but it doesn’t appear to involve playing Sano in the outfield any longer.
Here are the lineups for the first of a three-game series in the Bronx: