Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey referred to Miguel Sano’s conditioning more than once while delivering the shocking news on Thursday that Sano was being demoted to Class A Fort Myers.
Sano’s weight — he reported to training camp weighing 293 pounds — has made him a paunch line. But keep in mind players with bellies can produce at a high level in this game — the All-Star third baseman has a better chance to add 40 points to his batting average than to lose 40 pounds. So solving Sano means solving his swing, and a few weeks in Florida could work for him.
The Sano who has been flailing at breaking pitches off the plate and getting beat by fastballs is not the same player with the prodigious power who was an All-Star last season and finished second to Aaron Judge in the Home Run Derby. This version of Sano is falling behind in the count and flailing at breaking pitches out of the strike zone.
Twins hitting coach James Rowson pointed to the slider, a pitch against which Sano is hitting .129 according to Brooks Baseball, as a problem. When he lays off that pitch, it’s a sign to Rowson that Sano is in a good place.
“It’s one of those things we’ve really got to lock in on,” Rowson said, “getting off that slider that is down and out of the zone.” When Sano sees a slider, it’s usually later in the count. And Sano has been brutal when behind in the count, batting .092 with two strikes. That’s 310th among players with at least 50 plate appearances in that situation.
Twins manager Paul Molitor was asked bluntly if Sano has a two-strike approach at the moment.
“Yeah. I think he does,” Molitor said. “Does he execute it as of late? Not particularly well. He’s in a little bit of guess mode. I think that most hitters try to be ready for anything, is what you’ve got to be. You have to protect against everything, and it seems like he’s thinking fastball and he gets a slider. Then he’s thinking slider and he gets a fastball.”
The results have been horrific. A .203 batting average, seven home runs and 27 RBI in 37 games. His .636 on base-plus-slugging percentage is below Ehire Adrianza’s (.727). His strikeout percentage of .405 (!) would lead the majors if he qualified for the leaderboard.
So off to Florida.
The most famous example of such a demotion was the late Roy Halladay, who appeared in 57 games with the Blue Jays before starting 2001 at Class A Dunedin to rework his mechanics. He turned into a Hall of Fame candidate with 203 career wins.
Sano would take that kind of turnaround.
It’s a good sign that Sano is on board with pausing his season for this holistic approach to his game. After all, the first step toward solving a problem is admitting that there is one.
A weekly look at the Twins’ competition around the Central:
Indians: Jason Kipnis entered Friday batting .247 over his previous 24 games. That doesn’t seem impressive, but he was batting .170 through 39 games before turning things around. Kipnis is trying to get off the list of second baseman — Brian Dozier and Ian Kinsler are among them — who are struggling.
Royals: Just when games are starting to get shorter, Kansas City manager Ned Yost feels that taking a couple more minutes to ensure a call is correct is worth expanding instant replay. That includes interference, obstruction, fair or foul in the infield and other plays. “There’s no reason why they couldn’t,” Yost said. “I think we got the technology to be able to review those things.”
Tigers: Part of the fallout from Miguel Cabrera’s season-ending torn biceps is that backup catcher John Hicks will play mostly at first base. He started off by going 5-for-12 in three games against the Twins last week. Hicks actually was claimed off waivers by the Twins after the 2005 season and was in major league spring training the next year before being claimed off waivers by Detroit in April of 2016.
White Sox: Chicago’s bullpen has been on a nice roll lately, but it will have to continue without righthander Nate Jones, who landed on the disabled list Wednesday because of a forearm strain. Jones admitted that he’s been pitching through some discomfort, which seems to be a roll of the dice since he had Tommy John elbow surgery in 2016.
THE 3-2 PITCH
Here are three observations ...
Seattle entered the weekend a stunning 20 games over .500. And they are doing it with Dee Gordon injured, Robinson Cano suspended, third baseman Kyle Seager batting 35 points below his career average and righthander Felix Hernandez carrying a 5.70 ERA. Good teams improvise and overcome.
What’s impressive about Washington’s 19-year-old rookie outfielder Juan Soto is that he has struck out only 11 times over his first 76 plate appearances while walking 12 times. The Nationals have a keeper there.
Eyebrows were raised when the Cubs signed righthander Tyler Chatwood — with a career 40-46 record and 4.31 ERA — to a three-year, $38 million deal during the offseason. Eyebrows should be raised now that he leads the league with 58 walks issued.
... and two predictions.
The Twins will hold J.D. Martinez without a homer when the Red Sox visit for a three-game series starting on Tuesday, but Mookie Betts will homer twice.
The Angels won’t make the playoffs. They have 10 players on the DL and not enough resources to make deals to fill holes.