Late-blooming Solano gathering hits, nicknames

'Donnie Doubles' in the midst of career renaissance at age 35 for Twins

July 8th, 2023

MINNEAPOLIS -- The widely used nickname for  is “Donnie Barrels,” but he’s always wanted to be more of a home run hitter, a “Donnie Dingers.” It looks like he’ll just have to settle for “Donnie Doubles” instead.

Since the start of last season, a Twin has logged a game of at least three extra-base hits only five times. Two of those games have come from Solano in the past week, including his three-double game on Saturday in a 6-2 loss to the Orioles that continued the veteran’s surge as arguably the best and most consistent hitter on a disappointing Minnesota offense.

That’s not necessarily a good sign for the offense as a whole -- the best version of this team involves Byron Buxton or Carlos Correa leading the contributions -- but plenty of credit is due to Solano, the 35-year-old who was signed as a platoon bat during Spring Training but has since attained a far more significant role.

“I don't want to be a home run hitter [necessarily], but a hitter who hits more consistently hard balls,” Solano said. “I think those come by themselves. Even more doubles, more extra-base hits. I think it's a blessing from God in this time, particularly, at the end of my career, to bring me here, to improve everything like that in my numbers, my power, everything like that.”

Outside of Solano’s three doubles off Baltimore starter Tyler Wells, the game followed a largely similar script to the Twins’ offensive inconsistency of the last month-plus, with strikeouts and double plays halting the momentum of scattered hits.

Because of that, the Twins had little answer on offense for a bizarre second inning by All-Star Sonny Gray, who allowed six runs on six singles and two bases-loaded walks on 36 pitches in the frame, but otherwise didn’t allow a hit in the rest of his six-inning outing, his final start of the first half.

“You start to get a little bit too fine, because things are not going your way,” Gray said. “I felt good. I felt good going out and then the second inning, you just look up and they’re just poking it the other way, they’re staying inside, they’re just hitting it in the holes.”

But that inconsistency hasn’t found Solano, who is having one of the finest seasons of his career after he was brought to the team as a relatively unheralded addition but finds himself leading the team’s regulars (at least 200 plate appearances) in average (.285), on-base percentage (.378) and OPS (.808).

Following his three doubles on Saturday, he’s already one shy of his career-high in extra-base hits of 24 -- set in 2021 with the Giants -- and came one double short of joining Kirby Puckett as the only Twin to hit four doubles in a single game. Solano came close, lacing a sharp grounder down the third-base line in the eighth inning, but Ramón Urías gloved the ball for an out.

“[Puckett] would have been good company,” Solano said. “I missed that one by one, but let me work on the next one so that I can join him.”

That’s feeling more possible for Solano, long a light-hitting contact man known for spraying the ball, because he feels confident in some mechanical changes he implemented with the Twins during Spring Training to improve how he coils and creates more rotation in his swing, allowing him to drive the ball with more authority.

Perhaps that doesn’t lead to Solano suddenly becoming the power hitter he always hoped he could become, but he hasn’t sacrificed too much of his ability to hit for average -- right in line with his career .279 mark -- while he has already set a career high in walks, too.

“I think about it: 'Why [did it take] all this time?'” Solano said. “But I think I can transfer this to my kids, to the next generation: 'Hey, no matter what age it is, no matter what you've done in the big leagues to be successful, you continue to improve yourself, you continue to look at what's next to get to another level.’”

The Twins (45-45) need their big boppers to catch up if they want to make more noise down the stretch -- but whatever nickname you want to give Solano, he’s done much of that lifting for several weeks now.

“Donnie Doubles, Donnie Caballo, I'm somebody with a lot of nicknames now,” Solano said. “They'll continue to give me nicknames. I think they enjoy it when I do something good. That's all part of it.”