KANSAS CITY, MO. – Kennys Vargas didn’t wait long in the sixth inning Thursday night. Facing Royals lefthander Danny Duffy, the burly Twins first baseman cracked the first pitch he saw more than 420 feet over the center field wall, earning a rare distinction for his team.
It was the 10th home run of the season for Vargas, a milestone that nine of his teammates already had reached this season. That’s the most 10-homer players the Twins have ever had, surpassing the nine hitters on the 2004 roster, and leaves them one 10-homer hitter away from tying the major league record, set by the 2004 Tigers and last year’s Astros.
If Byron Buxton or Kurt Suzuki, each of whom has eight homers, could connect twice this weekend, the Twins would achieve another odd notch in a bizarre season.
For Vargas, though, it was a continuation of his pursuit of a permanent major league job, something that has eluded him for three years. Partly, that’s because of the Twins’ array of other options — Joe Mauer, Miguel Sano, Trevor Plouffe and, this year, Byung Ho Park — at first base and designated hitter. Partly, too, it’s because he has yet to display major league hitting skills on a game-to-game basis.
“There have been some things that we’ve been encouraged about,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “He’s had some stretches where he’s been a little bit more patient, does a better job of looking for pitches to hit — but we’ve seen that kind of come and go. He hasn’t had a lot of hits [to] drive in people when it hasn’t gone over the fence, so we’re looking for some consistency in those type of at-bats as well.”
In other words, Vargas might have a slugging percentage of .525, and his 20 extra-base hits in only 44 games are noteworthy. But with the Twins’ logjam at his position, and all the uncertainty as the team heads toward 2017 with a new baseball boss, Molitor isn’t sure whether Vargas will make the roster next spring.
“I can’t give him a black-and-white answer about his future here. I’m going to encourage him about what he’s done and what I think he needs to do better,” Molitor said. “But [with] how many guys we have there, I’m not in position to give him anything overly concrete about what his future is here and what he might be doing.”
Vargas said he understands the crowd at his position, but he is optimistic he will be given a shot next year.
“I just compete. You never know what’s going to happen, because we don’t make those decisions,” he said. “With negative thoughts, they’re not going to send you anywhere.”
Has the 26-year-old Puerto Rican at least established himself as a major leaguer?
“I wouldn’t say that, and it’s not a knock,” Molitor said. “Is he a DH, is he a part-time defensive player, is he a pinch-hit role player? I don’t mean that as a knock either, but I don’t think there’s enough of a track record to say that he’s solidified himself.”
• Brian Dozier had started every game since May 25, 113 games in a row, and wanted to keep playing. But Molitor decided the second baseman, stuck in a 1-for-27 rut over his past six games, needed a break.
“When you get tired, you start muscling the ball,” Molitor said. “He’s down to 12 at-bats, roughly. We’ll give up three [Thursday] to try to make the last 12 really good.”
• Jose Berrios will indeed start the Twins’ season finale, Molitor confirmed. The rookie, who will face White Sox ace Chris Sale in what could be the lefthander’s final start for Chicago, is trying to break a streak of starting eight consecutive losses.