It took about six weeks longer this season, and it feels more bittersweet than it did last year. There’s a close friend involved, after all, so it doesn’t seem right to celebrate.
But make no mistake: Eduardo Escobar is delighted to be the Twins’ starting shortstop once again.
“I’m very happy to go back to the infield. I’m a shortstop, and that’s where I play best,” Escobar said one day after Danny Santana was demoted to Class AAA Rochester. “I’m comfortable there.”
In each of the past two seasons, Escobar has made the team as a utility infielder — then stepped in as the starter when Plan A went awry. Last year, it was Pedro Florimon, who played himself out of the job, and eventually out of the organization, in just a month by batting .092. This year, it’s Santana, whose average was down to .218 when he was sent down and was just .188 since May 1.
Escobar is much closer to Santana than Florimon, so the new starter takes little joy in displacing his friend. He spent some time trying to cheer him up on Sunday, in fact. “I just said, ‘Go play, play hard, do what you need to do. You’re a good player, you’ll be back,’ ” Escobar said. “I’m happy, but I feel bad for Danny.”
Escobar has played in 47 of the Twins’ 57 games, but Monday’s game was only Escobar’s ninth at his natural position, and his defense has been shaky at times this year. He has two errors in eight games at short, and his zone rating, as calculated by fangraphs.com, has declined from above average to just average. On the other hand, he was a willing left fielder, but not a good one.
He won’t miss the outfield, Escobar said. And focusing on just one position, he added, should help a lot, by giving him time for extra work in the infield.
“There’s probably a little something to that,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “I told him, ‘In the short-term, you’re going to be out there.’ And we saw last year his competence in playing that position on a day-to-day basis. Hopefully taking his workout there and not having to worry about taking fly balls for awhile, yeah, there’s some merit to that.”
Santana takes abuse
Santana was distraught about the demotion, but Escobar said it’s been clear for weeks that the 24-year-old Dominican has been battling the stress of his batting slump. “It’s too much pressure,” Escobar said. “You swing bad, you’re not hitting, it gets worse.”
And Santana wasn’t helping matters, he said, by paying attention to public criticism, some of it over-the-top, on social media.
“Especially Twitter. He sees people talking about him on Twitter, in Spanish, in English, telling him he’s playing bad,” Escobar said. “It’s hard to play in the majors, and he was reading things that were hurting him.”
That’s a problem that bothers Molitor, too, but “it’s hard for a manager to monitor,” he said. “It’s a dangerous thing, in that we all know for the most part it’s an anonymous communication system where people can say what they want without fear of repercussion. You start going on there out of curiosity, trying to find something good — it’s just not going to happen.”
Molitor said he’s aware of some of Santana’s vocal critics — “everything from suggesting he be sent down, or ‘Where’s [Jorge] Polanco?’ Whatever it might be, it’s just going to be negative things that stir around in your head and make it more difficult.”
• With Houston’s loss to Toronto on Sunday, the Twins became the only AL team that has not suffered a four-game losing streak this season.
• Molitor, joking about the real reason he decided to move up Kyle Gibson’s next start to Wednesday: “I wanted to make sure Kyle got his swings in St. Louis.” The Twins play the Cardinals, without the designated hitter, next Monday and Tuesday.