Escobar's bat keeps him in lineup

The Twins’ Eduardo Escobar has exceeded utility-man output.

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The Twins' Eduardo Escobar, celebrating a home run against Detroit on June 13, has plenty of reasons to smile because he entered Tuesday batting .297 with two homers and 16 RBI and tied for the team lead with 22 doubles.

Photo: Paul Sancya, Associated Press

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– Eduardo Escobar has played five different positions this season for the Twins.

This is what a utility player does, but Escobar has hit while playing all of them. And slowly but surely, instead of being praised for being a good bench player, he’s carving out an everyday role with the Twins, who need his bat in the lineup.

Escobar entered Tuesday batting .297 with two homers and 16 RBI and tied for the team lead with 22 doubles. He’s generously listed at 5-10, but he has some pop in his bat and will not get cheated on a swing. The more he has played, the more the Twins have found out he can hit.

“I think being able to play every day has helped me get in the groove and get my swing together,” Escobar said.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said earlier in the season that Escobar hits some of the longest home runs during Twins batting practice.

“It’s funny,” Gardenhire said. “We’ve always said you never know with guys. You get labeled pretty quick in a career as a utility guy. And you never know until it arises when you start playing them every day how they are going to do it.”

On Tuesday, Escobar started at third base as Trevor Plouffe recovers from a rib cage injury. He’s played second base, shortstop, left field and, for the first time this season, center field. Escobar misplayed a ball in left field that played a part in a May 7 loss at Cleveland, but stood at his stall after the game and answered questions. It ended up being one of the few poor plays he’s made this season.

“You put him out there, no matter where I have put him, and he’s done a fantastic job,” Gardenhire said. “Swinging the bat and catching the ball.”

Escobar came over with lefthander Pedro Hernandez from the White Sox in exchange for Francisco Liriano on July 28, 2012, and had the reputation of being a fine defensive player but raw at the plate. Until recently, it looked like a move of little benefit for the Twins. Liriano didn’t pitch well for the White Sox but signed with Pittsburgh and went 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA last season. Meanwhile, Escobar batted .227 in 14 games in 2012 and .236 in 66 games last season. Hernandez was sent packing after going 3-3 with a 6.83 ERA in 14 games last season.

But Liriano started this season 1-6 and currently is on the disabled list because of a strained oblique muscle. Suddenly, it looks as if the Twins have real asset in the Venezuelan-born Escobar.

Escobar is best suited to play shortstop but, when everyone is healthy, he likely will share the position with Danny Santana, who is a better athlete with a powerful arm and has leadoff hitter written all over him.

But Gardenhire can move Santana to center field sometimes and plug in Escobar at other positions to keep his bat in the lineup.

At worst, Escobar has become a super utility player, someone Gardenhire doesn’t want to leave on the bench.

“I just come to the ballpark ready to play,” Escobar said. “If I see my name in the lineup, I’m going to give it 110 percent. I’ll be ready to give it 110 percent when they do need me.”

He was needed Tuesday as the Twins kicked off a three-game series in Anaheim, batting eighth, playing third base and looking for another pitch to drive.

“He swings,” Gardenhire said. “He’s not afraid to swing it and let it fly. And he’s got that great attitude. He’s been a joy to watch.”

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