FORT MYERS, Fla. – The hey-maybe-he-can-do-this phase of Byung Ho Park’s tenure with the Twins officially has passed.
“He’s making a believer out of some people,” manager Paul Molitor said, “including myself.”
The Korean slugger added to his résumé — and his team-leading RBI total — with a two-out, two-run double off Boston closer Koji Uehara on Wednesday, capping the Twins’ four-run inning that put away Minnesota’s 9-4 victory over the Red Sox.
“I think he’s gaining confidence. I haven’t really seen him overmatched, his first day being an exception,” Molitor said of Park, who drove a Uehara pitch to deep left field, scoring Max Kepler and Trevor Plouffe for his team-leading eighth and ninth RBI of the spring.
Molitor said there is plenty still to be decided about the two-time Korean MVP, like where he’ll bat in the lineup (he was sixth Wednesday, as he has been much of the spring), and how often he’ll play, especially early in the season, as he gets further acclimated to his new home.
But the consistently effective at-bats are a great sign.
“That third at-bat, he came out of the game on a good note with that big two-out double,” Molitor said. “He’s doing fine. … I’ve seen the intelligence to his approach.”
He’s seen some smarts from starter Kyle Gibson, too. The fourth-year righthander has gradually added a curveball to his fastball-changeup-sinker-slider mix, and he’s discovered how off-balance it can make hitters. Gibson struck out seven of the 13 batters he faced Wednesday, and while none of the third strikes came on a curve, several were set up by it.
“I’m not sure if it’s the curveball being in the mix adds a little wrinkle for them, but that’s been a pretty good pitch for me this spring, so I’m pretty excited about that,” Gibson said. “I think it’s adding something in there that they have to think about.”
Gibson allowed a home run to the game’s first batter, Mookie Betts, but was nearly flawless after that over 3 ⅓ innings.
“He seemed a little amped up [Wednesday], in a good way. His velocity was good,” Molitor said. “We didn’t see a lot of the curve last year. He’s getting more confidence in that pitch.”
Brian Dozier and Eddie Rosario each homered for the Twins, the second of the spring for both, and Miguel Sano doubled home Joe Mauer in the first inning.
The Twins travel to Sarasota on Thursday night to face Baltimore in the final night game of the Grapefruit League season.