Report From The Fort: From Ks To Praise
Image courtesy of © Scott Rovak-USA TODAY SportsByungHo Park
ByungHo Park struck out in his first at-bat versus Liriano, though he extended the at-bat seven pitches. It ended on a 93 mph fastball that was called a high-outside corner-catching strike. But the next time Liriano threw a fastball (this one 92 mph and considerably closer to the middle of the plate), Park crushed it to straightaway center field, a no-doubter.
Park’s spring has impressed his manager, and that goes beyond what he sees in games. “You watch how he takes [batting practice] and you see that he has a pretty good idea on how he likes to prepare,” said Molitor after the game. “But you don’t see the long homers, because he’s working on his swing. But when he catches one, it’s impressive.”
Miguel Sano also struck out in his first at-bat, and on only three pitches, the last of which was a questionable called strike. He also struck out quickly in his second at-bat versus Liriano on a called check swing, and looked visibly frustrated (and a little baffled) both times. But to start his third at-bat, lefty JP Howell threw Sano a second straight offspeed pitch and Sano channeled those frustrations into a blast over the trees behind the left field wall.
After the game, Molitor talked a little about how Sano refocused - and about his reactions to the first two at-bats. “He didn’t get the benefit of the call in the first inning; we all kinda agreed on that. The next one, well I talked to him. I said ‘The first one I’ll defend you in the regular season, but that last one you probably went.’ And he agreed. And I said ‘Just get ready for your next at-bat.’ That’s kind of how you have to go with him.”
I suspect everyone would feel a lot better about that home run (his second of the spring) if it didn’t come with 15 strikeouts (and just two walks) so far. But the blast was a pleasant reminder of the promise that the Twins and Sano are working towards.
Finally, Byron Buxton also struck out the two times he faced Liriano. His at-bats lasted longer and were more competitive, though Molitor noted after the game that Buxton chased some pitches. However, in the fifth inning Buxton made a CGI-like defensive play; the kind of play that feels like it requires special effects. Human beings are not supposed to travel at the speed that Buxton achieved sprinting into the left field gap. They are also supposed to have enough common sense not to dive at that speed, back-handing a catch as they slam into the warning track.
And while I mean that sentence as praise, it could also be read as the start of a very scary situation, which it was when Buxton didn’t get up immediately. After catching his wind, he did get up, gave a thumbs up to the dugout before Molitor and the Twins trainer got halfway to him, and stayed in the game and made another catch in center field. But the play was impressive enough and scary enough that when the inning ended and he came back to the dugout, he got a standing ovation from visiting Twins fans and a handshake from Paul Molitor, who also took the opportunity to check on his health.
If there was any doubt as to the roles in the Twins infield on Opening Day, it has long since dissolved. Since March 10th, the infield of Brian Dozier (2B), Jorge Polanco (SS) and Miguel Sano (3B) have started as a unit six times. In the other four games, none has played without the others.
They are being treated as one defensive team by Molitor and he confirmed today why. “I think the intention is to try to get guys that most likely have a chance to be playing together to play as a unit. ….The people that are making plays together in combinations; you try to get those guys as comfortable as you can with each other.”
The Twins have already announced that Ervin Santana will be the Opening Day starter, but beyond that, the order of the rotation remains pure speculation. Based on the dates players have pitched so far, it appears Kyle Gibson would follow Santana, and Phil Hughes would complete the Twins homestand on the 6th. Hector Santiago would presumably pitch the opening game on the road on the 7th.
But I should repeat: I’m speculating. I asked Phil Hughes if he had any idea where he might slot in once the season starts and it's pretty clearly hasn’t looked that far ahead. In fact, it might be impossible to tell yet, with three of the Twins starting pitchers still not back from their WBC stints. “With Ervin being gone and Santiago, we’re just trying to piece together who is pitching in spring training,” replied Hughes.
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