Twins third baseman Miguel Sano has started off as hot as any hitter in the American League, going 2-for-6 in his first two games with two walks, a home run, a triple, five RBI and four runs scored.
After the Twins' 9-1 victory over Kansas City at Target Field on Wednesday, Sano said he belted a fastball on the key at-bat of the afternoon. Sano tripled to right field with the bases loaded and increased the Twins' lead from 3-1 to 6-1.
Sano had a much slower start last season, going 4-for-28 with one RBI in the Twins' first nine games, while the team started 0-9. He finished the year batting .236 with 25 homers and 66 RBI, and Sano said he spent the offseason in the Dominican Republic working to improve his game.
"This year I'm working a lot on my defense and my bat speed," he said. "I'm working on a lot of stuff. I've got to change the numbers from what I had last year."
Sano, who former Twins General Manager Bill Smith signed with one of his best moves back in 2009 to a $3.15 million signing bonus, said he knows pitchers are trying to work him outside after he's shown how well he can pull the ball, as he did Opening Day in hitting his first home run of the season.
"The pitchers are pitching me away on the first pitch and with the changeup and breaking ball," he said. "I need to make an adjustment with all of those pitches. I need to be ready for every pitch."
The 23-year-old righthanded slugger said he knows he must be patient until he gets the right pitch to hit.
"If they give me a good pitch to hit, I need to be willing to hit and help my team, go deep in the at-bat, all of that stuff," Sano said.
Target Field isn't necessarily known as a hitter's park, but Sano doesn't feel that way.
"I love this park. It's in my town. This is where I play, it's my home," he said. "I need to keep playing and do a great job."
Assistance from Tatis
Sano said he worked this winter in the Dominican Republic with former MLB veteran Fernando Tatis, primarily a third baseman who played 11 seasons with five different organizations. He is the only major leaguer to hit two grand slams in one inning, in April 1999 for the Cardinals against the Dodgers.
Sano explained what he gained from extensive training with Tatis, saying he didn't have time to play winter baseball as many Twins players do.
"I was working on my body, my defense, my bat," Sano said. "I couldn't do that work and play winter ball. I feel comfortable at third base, working with Tatis in the offseason every day. You know I'm trying to do more with my bat, defense, running the bases, all of that stuff."
When it comes to playing third base, Sano said he believes he's getting better every day.
"I would say I'm trying to charge [the ball] different," he said. "I'm not trying to say I'm already [complete], but I'm working really hard to do a great job this year, and every year now. I try to be healthy every day and play 162 games."
Sano also said he improved in managing his weight.
"I lost some weight," he said. "I was down to 262, but during spring training I gained 5 pounds because I thought I would feel stronger. But I feel good now to play third for 162 games."
And while Sano hit only .200 in spring training, he knew he was ready for the start of the season.
"I didn't hit really good in spring training, but I played great defense," he said. "I tried to focus more on my defense because I know I can hit. I'm ready for this year, and my whole career."
Gophers' high rank
ESPN.com recently ran a list of its predicted Top 25 basketball teams for next season and had the Gophers ranked No. 17 in the country. The only Big Ten team ranked higher was Michigan State at No. 12.
Here's what the article said about the Gophers: "Coach Richard Pitino's team might not have been as good as the Badgers [last season], but it did play top-25 defense, and it will return everyone of note moving forward, from point guard Nate Mason to shot-block specialist Reggie Lynch. Pitino also added four-star point guard Isaiah Washington to help Mason on the perimeter; he could fight his way into significant minutes right away. More pressing: This is a team that won eight games in 2015-16. Tourney seed aside, this turnaround was already spectacular. It will probably continue apace."
•Timberwolves forward Karl-Anthony Towns has a chance to make history by the end of the season. Towns has 1,911 points and 924 rebounds with five games remaining. If he can collect 89 points and 76 rebounds over that stretch, he will become only the 15th player in NBA history to record 2,000-plus points and 1,000-plus rebounds in a season. At 21, he would also be the youngest ever to do it, and the first since the Spurs' Tim Duncan in 2001-2002.
•In the victory over the Royals on Wednesday, the Twins took nine walks, giving them 16 in their first two games. Of those 16 players, nine have scored. … One of the big question marks entering this season was the Twins bullpen, but through two games the relievers have thrown six scoreless innings with one walk, one hit and six strikeouts. … Eduardo Escobar continued his hot play against the Royals. Escobar has hit safely in 15 of his past 17 games against Kansas City, going 23-for-63 (.365) in that span.
•Meanwhile, the Royals do not look like the great team they've been the past few seasons. If the Twins defeat them Thursday, it will be the first time Kansas City has been swept in an opening series since 2001.
•According to USA Today, the Twins rank No. 22 among the 30 MLB teams in total payroll at just under $101 million. They are the lowest among the five AL Central teams, with the Detroit Tigers at No. 2 on the list, behind the L.A. Dodgers. Commitments to three Twins players — Joe Mauer, Ervin Santana and Phil Hughes — make up 49 percent ($49.7 million) of the payroll. Their payroll last year, when they compiled the worst record in baseball (59-103), was roughly $105 million.
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