Kennys Vargas took early batting practice with his teammates Tuesday, then headed out to the outfield to take his turn catching fly balls. One problem, though.
He wasn’t wearing a glove.
“We’re going to already have a talk,” Gardenhire said with a laugh. “He’s carrying a bat out there in the outfield instead of a glove. I didn’t say anything because I want him to enjoy himself. ... But that does tell you about what he likes to do most.”
Come to think of it, the Twins might want to let Vargas carry that bat with him anywhere he likes, because he seems to know how to use it. The huge rookie used it to smash a Jesse Hahn pitch into the right-field stands on Tuesday, delivering three runs and a 3-1 victory over the San Diego Padres.
Vargas’ first career home run ended up in a fan’s glove 388 feet from home plate, and sparked a long and loud ovation for the gregarious Puerto Rican slugger. It also marked the return of a recent rarity at Target Field: the three-run homer. Not since Oswaldo Arcia connected against the Brewers on June 4 had the Twins scored three runs on a single swing of the bat in their home park.
It was a nice moment for a rookie, and a heartening one for the Twins, who are trying to find ways to make their final two months relevant. Seeing whether the 275-pound switch-hitter can contribute at the major league level, after skipping Class AAA, is one way to do it.
So is helping Phil Hughes to keep gaining confidence he can be a rotation cornerstone, and the righthander took another step in that direction on Tuesday by holding the Padres to one run and seven hits over seven inning, his best start in a month. Hughes, who had lost three straight decisions to drop his record to 10-8, caught San Diego’s leadoff hitter looking at strike three in each of the first four innings, and he finished his night with a season-high nine strikeouts.
Hughes’ only blemish: a sinker that didn’t sink to Yonder Alonso in the fifth inning, a pitch that ended up in the upper deck stands in right-center field. But it was a solo shot, the first one Hughes has allowed since July 19, and merely set up Vargas’ heroics later.
Not that the Twins were convinced that any heroics were coming, not against another impressive rookie. Padres righthander Jesse Hahn, who had posted a 7-2 record and 2.01 ERA this season, held the Twins to two hits through the first five innings, and there was no reason to think he couldn’t make the 1-0 lead that Alonso provided hold up. He hasn’t allowed a home run since his debut on June 3, after all, a span of 55 consecutive innings.
But after Brian Dozier clubbed a one-out double, Trevor Plouffe walked, and Josh Willingham struck out, Vargas seemed to almost jump at a 1-0 pitch from Hahn. It cleared the granite overhang in right field practically before he could get out of the batter’s box, making the rookie just the eighth Twin ever to hit his first career home run in his first home game.
The Twins complete the brief homestand Wednesday afternoon against the Padres, with San Diego native Kevin Correia on the mound, then head to the West Coast for a four-game series with Oakland.