CHICAGO – Paul Molitor admitted that he’s thought ahead to what the Twins lineup will look like with Jorge Polanco in it.
Can you blame him? The offense is a significant reason why the Twins began Tuesday six games under .500. Polanco was in the middle of it all last year when the Twins made their run to a wild-card berth, batting .316 with 42 RBI over the final 55 games of the season.
“Some,” Molitor said. “I mean, as you know, it’s kind of day to day as far as how you try to shape things. But as far as that getting closer by the day, you try to see how that’s going to work out.”
Polanco on Tuesday played his first game at shortstop for Class A Fort Myers, going 2-for-3 with a single, homer, RBI and two walks. He homered in his first at-bat.
He went 0-for-3 Sunday, which was the first game of his minor league assignment as he enters the final days of his 80-game suspension for violating the league’s drug policy.
Polanco could have started playing several days earlier, for the league allows players coming off suspension to take part in a 15-day minor league assignment. But Polanco was recovering from an injured right index finger suffered when he caught it in a door. Then the finger became infected.
Since he’s just beginning to play in games, the Twins have less than a week to determine if he’s ready for the majors. If not, they will place him on the 10-day disabled list to give him more time to get sharp.
“I’m hoping we find out in he’s in a place where he can help us next week,” Molitor said. “But if we have to buy 10 more days to make sure, that’s something we have to consider. That’s why it’s a day-to-day deal.”
Polanco finished with a .256 batting average, 13 homers and 74 RBI, which shows the hole he was in before he heated up during the second half the season. The Twins considered Polanco, who turns 25 on July 5, to be a key element to their offense this season. So everyone was blindsided when the drug suspension was announced.
Polanco spent the early weeks of his suspension working out at the Twins year-round facility in Fort Myers, Fla. He’s worked on his defense, going through daily drills with minor league instructor Sam Perlozzo. He’s also worn out extended spring pitchers when he’s made cameo appearances.
The goal was for Polanco to get the most out of his time while he was sidelined for taking Stanozolol.
“We took a more creative approach at the outset early on when we broke camp.” Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey said earlier this month. “We took a step back to do some things around strength and conditioning, mobility work, movement patterns — things you don’t normally do with a guy when he’s playing games every day. We did some things around lateral movement to help him long-term defensively, working with Sam Perlozzo on the defensive side before getting him back into more traditional games in extended [spring training].”
Now the race is on to see if Polanco can step into the lineup on Monday in Milwaukee, when his suspension ends. The Twins plan to move him to Class AAA Rochester — fast track, was the word Molitor used — to see if he will be sharp enough to return to the team.
Games like Tuesday certainly will have the Twins thinking — dreaming? — ahead to next week, when he can be penciled into their lineup.
“I just know from last year, not that he’ll be in the same place he was at the end of the year, but to have a switch hitter who takes the kind of at-bats he’s capable of, I know that’s going to be pretty valuable,” Molitor said. “And how we spread out our position players and line them up.”