Plenty to talk about as the Twins closed a 6-1 homestand against a couple of good team:
Danny Santana was 7-for-40 (.175) since his return from Class AAA Rochester when his turn to bat came up in the ninth inning Friday, in the midst of the Twins’ desperate ninth-inning rally from a 6-1 deficit. The bases were loaded and the Twins trailed, 6-3. It was the perfect spot, it seemed, for a pinch-hitter, perhaps Eduardo Nunez. Someone, anyone but the seemingly overmatched second-year infielder.
Instead, manager Paul Molitor played a hunch and let Santana bat. And things haven’t been the same for Santana since.
First, he lined a solid single up the middle, scoring two runs and setting up Brian Dozier’s walk-off heroics. A day later, he had a single and a double, each of them driving in a run. And on Sunday, Santana doubled and tripled, driving in two more.
“It’s only been a few games, but there’s some life there,” Molitor said after the Twins’ 7-1 victory. “We’ve seen it in the past. We’re trying to find ways to surface it a little more consistently. He’s had a tough time with expectations of himself, what he can do. The more he relaxes, the more he does those things.”
Santana is only 24, and he’s still batting just .225 for the season. But maybe he’s turning a tough season around, Molitor said. Making that happen has been something of a challenge for the rookie manager.
“We’ve had to micromanage when to back him off, when to build him up, when to toughen up with him a little bit — trying to find what he responds to,” Molitor said. “I think he likes affirmation, for sure. I can’t guarantee him he’s my shortstop every day, it’s just been one of those things I don’t want to say and not live up to. But the last couple of days, he’s responded.”
Brian Dozier “can feel it a little bit,” he said of the Twins’ busy June and July schedule, which concluded with 17 straight games. “But we’re grinders. We grind through it.”
It helps to have positive reinforcement, Dozier said, like winning six out of seven on a homestand. Or being named to the All-Star team. Or even getting a nice ovation from the Target Field crowd when he was pulled in the ninth inning Sunday.
Coach Joe Vavra told Dozier that “you’re not going to play the ninth, but you’re going to go out. That didn’t make much sense,” Dozier said, but he understood once Eduardo Escobar jogged out to take his place. “It was pretty cool. A pretty good little moment,” he said.
In three of his four Sunday at-bats, Miguel Sano started out with strikes on the first two pitches he saw. In one of the at-bats, he struck out looking, and once he grounded out. But the other one?
It became a souvenir for somebody in the left field stands, Sano’s second career home run.
That continued a remarkable pattern for the rookie, who has now faced 0-and-2 counts in 12 of his 45 career at-bats. Of those 12 plate appearances, Sano has gone on to hit a single, double and now a home run, and twice he’s eventually drawn a walk. He also has six strikeouts. That’s a .300 batting average after he falls behind 0-2, and a remarkable .417 on-base percentage. His OPS? 1.117.
Most amazing, Molitor said, was how he batted defensively down 0-2, yet still connected so well, the ball left the park.
“He got a mistake, and kind of shortened up,” Molitor said of his rookie cleanup hitter. “He doesn’t have to barrel it up and have all his power behind it to hit it in the seats. That was one of those cases where it was kind of a shortened swing but he got a good result.”