FORT MYERS, FLA. – One swing on Friday made Ehire Adrianza feel very relieved — and sets up an interesting final stretch of spring training.
In the sixth inning against the Orioles, the Twins infielder connected on a knee-high fastball from lefthander Josh Rogers and propelled it over the center field wall. It was his second home run of the day — but that’s not what was noteworthy about his game. He homered from both sides of the plate in the game, which means he hit one of them righthanded.
Adrianza had October surgery on his left shoulder, stemming from an injury suffered Sept. 2 in a game against Texas. The injury made it hard for the switch hitter to follow through while batting righthanded, so he only hit lefthanded at the end of the season. This spring, he was reluctant to swing righthanded in the early stages of camp but decided right before exhibition games to give it a shot.
The home run Friday proved to him that he was healthy and can swing away.
“I had a little bit of concern about my shoulder the first couple of weeks of spring training,” he said, “but now I feel very confident. That [home run] is what I was looking for. I feel very good about my shoulder.”
Adrianza is in his third season with the Twins, but his spot on the team as a utility player is not guaranteed, even though his $1.3 million salary is. He needs a strong, and healthy, spring to lock down a spot on the bench. Whether it is four-man or five-man bench remains to be seen, as the Twins figure out how many pitchers they will need during the first half of April, during which they have five off days.
Health and home runs — Adrianza homered again Sunday, batting lefthanded — are a great way to stand out in a crowd.
“More than even the home run, the confidence and the strength coming back from both sides of the plate,” new Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “And getting there righthanded. He’s getting there and putting good swings on the ball. He’s come back nicely, back to the point where, again I’m still watching these guys and have 20-30 at-bats with some of our guys right now.
“Not much history with them, but Adrianza looked good, and he also looked good on the other side of the bag playing second base, moving around and making some nice plays. On top of the nice plays that he made, he almost made a really nice play. He looks comfortable over there.”
Comments like those begin to carry more weight because the Twins have reached “go” time.
Only eight spring training games remain, and managers will begin to focus on their 25-man rosters. Baldelli is zeroing in on who will be on his bench and the composition of his bullpen.
On Monday against Boston, Baldelli will field a lineup that looks made for Opening Day, with Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco at the top of the order, newcomers Marwin Gonzalez, C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop batting fifth, sixth and seventh and Byron Buxton batting ninth. It’s a sign he is taking things a little more seriously.
“You really start zeroing in on getting your core players their at-bats, getting people to positions that they will play or may play during the season and really start paying attention to those things and even our staff as a whole, how we plan on handling in-game moves and how we’re going to handle all of those types of situations,” he said.
“I think it’s getting to that point in camp where we start having not just those discussions but bring that stuff out there to the games as well.”
Adrianza is a sure-handed fielder who hit .251 with six homers and 39 RBI last season. He can play every infield position and also has played some outfield. His spot really looked in jeopardy when the Twins signed Gonzalez on Feb. 22. Willians Astudillo is closing in on a bench spot. Jake Cave is the main outfield backup. That’s four bench players right there, if the Twins take 12 pitchers north.
That nudges out infielder Ronald Torreyes, who has had a good camp and drew praise from Baldelli before Sunday’s game against Toronto. First baseman Tyler Austin has crushed the ball, batting .390 with three homers. First baseman Lucas Duda, signed just before camp, is batting .267. Even veteran infielder Adam Rosales is batting .303 with four homers.
Keep in mind that both Adrianza and Austin are out of minor league options and would have to clear waivers to be sent down. The Twins could go with 11 pitchers, creating a temporary extra bench spot. Miguel Sano’s foot injury will knock him out of the first month of games, which already is offering temporary flexibility.
Also remember that Duda has a clause in his contract that allows him to leave if he’s not put on the 40-man roster by Friday.
With Gonzalez on board, the Twins could opt to try to sneak Adrianza through waivers. Or Cave could start 2019 in the minors because he has options left. The Twins can go many ways with their bench.
With eight spring games remaining, it’s the right time for Adrianza to prove he’s healthy and can show some pop. Because the Twins are about to make some difficult decisions.
“I don’t worry about it, because I’ve been in this situation before,” Adrianza said of his future. “Every time I come to a spring training, I’m looking forward to making the team. I don’t have a safe roster spot, like I’m on the team. I’ve got to constantly gain my spot. That’s what I do. … It’s hard, but I’m happy with my job.”