ANAHEIM, CALIF. – Twins right fielder Max Kepler showed his left hand to reporters before Friday’s game against the Angels, revealing swelling and a bruise at the point where he was hit with a pitch in the sixth inning Thursday.
The hand was the main reason why Kepler was not in the lineup Friday. And that makes what he did the night before even more remarkable.
Kepler was hit as he attempted to check his swing on a pitch thrown by Angels lefthander Jose Alvarez. The ball caught part of his bat, so it was called a strike. After needing a couple of minutes to shake off some of the pain from the plunking, Kepler stepped into the batter’s box and pummeled Álvarez’s next pitch into the seats in right for a home run that tied the score at 4-4.
“That was an interesting sequence there,” manager Paul Molitor said. “The whole play, the way it unfolded, and then to respond and hit the next pitch out, which tied the game.”
Kepler, understated as usual, said his plan was to get back in the batter’s box and battle through the at-bat.
“I was locked in for sure, because the adrenaline was rushing through,” Kepler said. “I just reacted.”
Molitor chuckled when asked how he could bench a player who took a shot — and then delivered one. “I told him [Thursday night] we’ll see how it went,” Molitor said. “I was thinking about giving him a day.”
What can’t be overlooked about Kepler is that he’s turning the corner when it comes to hitting lefthanded pitching. Check that. He’s burning rubber as he emerges from that corner.
Kepler is batting .357 against lefthanders, tops among Twins regulars. He has a .419 on-base percentage (Joe Mauer, by the way, has a .542 OBP against lefties) and a .714 slugging percentage. This from a guy who hit .152 against lefties last season and .195 for his career.
The transformation comes down to understanding what pitchers are trying to do to him.
“Just get my pitch to hit,” Kepler said. “Last year, I was swinging at waste pitches, being too aggressive in certain counts and certain situations. Patience has helped me out a lot this year.”
Kepler also made things harder for himself by fretting about hitting lefties or being benched against certain lefties.
“With Max, he will be the first to tell you it got in his head a little bit last year,” Molitor said. “People talked about it every time we faced a lefty.”
Kepler’s emergence against lefties is wrecking opponents’ game plans against the Twins. Mauer is batting .353 against lefties himself, so teams can’t plug in lefties in late-inning situations and expect success.
Kepler did end up getting used in Friday’s game — and he was promptly intentionally walked as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning. Kepler came around to score the eventual winning run on Bobby Wilson’s sacrifice fly.
Miguel Sano spent his 25th birthday Friday navigating through a battery of drills and workouts as he tries to recover from a sore left hamstring. One of the drills included light running around the bases.
“I think there’s still a little stiffness in there,” Molitor said. “I’m not sure if it’s from the injury or from the work we’ve been putting him through, maybe a combination.
“We’ll see how tomorrow goes and then Sunday we’ll probably have to determine if he needs to continue to do what he’s doing or if we have to start thinking about getting him out somewhere to play or what we want to do as far as his status here.”
Class AAA Rochester released lefthander Mason Melotakis, a Twins second-round pick in 2012. The 26-year-old was 2-1 with a 3.07 ERA this season.