How unusual is Willians Astudillo's see-ball-hit-ball game? On a Thursday night when the rookie catcher singled home two runs and then doubled in two more, after driving in a career-high four runs in the Twins' 9-3 victory over Detroit at Target Field, the real news was this: He struck out.
Yes, it was a checked swing at a Francisco Liriano slider in the dirt, and yes, Astudillo didn't look convinced as he walked back to the dugout, but no matter: First base umpire Dave Rackley ruled it strike three, ringing him up for the first time all month.
It had been 55 plate appearances since Astudillo whiffed back on Aug. 29, and he now has three strikeouts this season. One walk, too.
"What is it, three out of 100 at-bats now? He doesn't even get to two strikes all that often," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "I was surprised to see a couple three-ball counts [Thursday], too. … The ratio is pretty good — a 3-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and you don't even have to do math to figure it out."
Astudillo, who has captured the imagination of Twins fans with his see-it-hit-it ways since first joining the team in late June, is batting .393 with runners in scoring position, with a .692 slugging percentage that has produced 17 of his 19 career RBI, in only 26 games.
"It takes longer than a month to get yourself on the map, but you can make an impression," Molitor said of Astudillo and Tyler Austin, who doubled twice and drove in three runs. "It's fun to see."
Joe Mauer, perhaps playing his final week, also contributed, following a Gregorio Petit double with one of his own off Liriano, marking the 12th consecutive game that Mauer has reached base. The double also made him the fourth Twins player to collect 600 extra-base hits, behind Harmon Killebrew (728), Kirby Puckett (628) and Kent Hrbek (623).
Playing it safe
Last season, Miguel Sano missed six weeks because of a leg injury, returned for three games over the season's final weekend, and mostly grew frustrated that the pain lingered.
The Twins have decided to avoid making the same mistake twice.
Sano, who has played once since wrenching his left leg while sliding into second base on Sept. 4, is unlikely to suit up this weekend, Molitor said, effectively ending the worst season of his four-year career.
"I'm not overly optimistic we were going to get very far this week. He's not really changing how he's feeling, and I'm certainly not going to be someone to push him out there if he's not comfortable playing," Molitor said.
The pain hasn't disappeared from the back of Sano's knee, the manager was told by head athletic trainer Tony Leo. Sano joins Ervin Santana, Eddie Rosario, Logan Morrison, Adalberto Mejia, Jason Castro and perhaps Mitch Garver (who still might bat in one of the four remaining games) as players who were shut down early because of injury.
"The mental side of the injury, as much as the physical side, has made him a little tentative about trying to push himself out there for a couple games," Molitor said.
Thursday was the 20th anniversary of the final game of Molitor's Hall of Fame playing career, a 6-2 Metrodome victory over the Indians in which Molitor collected two hits as the Twins' designated hitter.
He recalls being "fairly certain, but not 100 percent" that he was going to retire.
Does his history give him any insight into Mauer's upcoming decision about whether to return for 2019? "People ask me. My family asks me, 'What's he going to do?' I don't know," Molitor said. "I do believe him that he wants to separate from the day-to-day thing and see if wherever he might be leaning is changed by some downtime, further discussions and mindfulness of what he wants to do next."
Playing isn't the issue, Molitor said; it's the preparation that becomes a burden. "We both understand the whole enjoyment of playing and competing, and trying to line that up against the preparation aspect of getting yourself ready to play," he said. "Usually once the first pitch is thrown, you're pretty much good. It's just that you try to balance the days that you're glad you here and the days that maybe you wish you weren't."