BALTIMORE – Victories are what count, not endorsements. The Twins got both at Camden Yards this week.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter is now a believer in the team that had the worst record in baseball last season, proclaiming the Twins’ sweep of the series much more than a fluke.
“They’re not going away,” Showalter said of the Twins, who have now spent more days in first place than any AL Central team, and more days than any year since their most recent division title in 2010. “If they continue to pitch, they’re going to be tough. That’s the team I thought they were going to be last year.”
The Twins won with hitting Monday and pitching Tuesday, Showalter pointed out, and their defense has been solid. “It’s a well-thought-out roster. You can see the way it fits, with the switch hitters and the defenders and the runners and the way they can move the parts around,” Showalter said. “A lot of it is the influence of [former General Manager] Terry Ryan through the years. And with [current GM] Thad Levine coming in, they’ve kind of taken a little step into modernizing some things.”
Showalter also described Target Field as “my favorite ballpark, other than ours,” and said he admires the way the team stresses “baseball functionality” in its operation. But mostly, he likes how the Twins play.
“They’re a tough team,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of weapons.”
Earthquake of a slide
Kennys Vargas swore he thought the Orioles were going to make the play close at home plate in the second inning Wednesday. That’s why he gave Miguel Sano the “slide” signal.
Sano wasn’t so sure. “My friend over there,” he said, jokingly gesturing at Vargas. “I slide because Kennys told me to slide. I didn’t have to. But, OK.”
Sano was safe at least, but not safe from the teasing he got in the dugout. Sano’s headfirst dive into the dirt sort of resembled an out-of-control train derailing; even the 275-pound slugger described the bouncing move as “boom-boom-boom.”
“I’m not sure what the Richter scale registered on that one,” Twins manager Paul Molitor joked. “It was a belly flop more than a head-first slide.”
It was a funny moment for the Twins, though perhaps not right at first, not as Sano rounded third base on Max Kepler’s RBI double, the right fielder’s seventh extra-base hit in seven games. “We all got scared. We were all a little amazed he slid in,” starter Jose Berrios said. “But he’s an aggressive player. Miguel’s going to do whatever he can to score.”
• Doctors “were fairly pleased” with Tuesday’s magnetic resonance imaging test on Phil Hughes’ right shoulder, Molitor said, and though more tests were conducted Wednesday, the manager believes that there is no serious injury. Might Hughes be ready to return when his stint on the 10-day disabled list expires in a week? “I think that’s accurate,” Molitor said.
• Lefthander Hector Santiago will start Friday against the Rays, but Molitor said the Twins are going to push back Kyle Gibson’s next start until Sunday. He is not ready to announce Saturday’s starter — the fourth week in a row that there has been uncertainty about the Twins’ Saturday pitcher — but it’s likely Adalberto Mejia will be recalled and re-inserted into the rotation. Beginning Friday, the Twins play 45 games in 45 days until the All-Star break, and they would like to return to a standard five-man rotation.