Sano rewarding Twins' faith with hot streak

July 21st, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins’ faith in has started to pay off in a big way.

The slugger had certainly endured a brutal slump through part of June following an injury-delayed start to the season, but manager Rocco Baldelli stuck with his third baseman through the ups and the downs. That conviction has led to Sano’s recent hot streak, which continued with a loud, game-tying homer in the seventh inning of the Twins' loss to the A's on Saturday.

"I think he's gone up there and dominated some at-bats, and I think that it's something that's inside you," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "It's a difficult thing to develop, I think, in players. I think some guys have that skill and that knack, and it's something that he can always work off of."

Sano crushed a hanging slider into Target Field’s third deck to open the seventh for a Statcast-estimated 443-foot blast that tied the game, 3-3. The 113.8 mph exit velocity on the shot marked the third-hardest homer hit by a Twins player this season and was the third-hardest of Sano’s career.

That homer and an earlier double extended Sano’s on-base streak to 16 games, during which he has recorded more extra-base hits (10) and walks (11) than strikeouts (17) while hitting .346/.460/.750.

Sano's breakout has been a long time coming -- and not entirely unexpected for Baldelli. When Sano first returned to the Twins in May after missing all of Spring Training and the start of the season with a laceration to his right heel, he was open about the fact that he wasn’t comfortable at the plate and was just hoping to contribute quality at-bats, however he could, as he settled in.

"They're not giving me any pitches to hit," Sano said. "I need to take walks."

"He's not a totally different hitter than he was the first week he came back or a month ago," Baldelli said. "He's the same guy with the same types of at-bats. When he's been going really good, he's having great at-bats and he's hitting balls hard. When he was not going as good, he was still having good at-bats."

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During a stretch in mid-to-late June, Sano went 3-for-39 with 23 strikeouts and three walks as he worked with hitting coaches James Rowson and Rudy Hernandez to retool his stance and his swing to better get on top of pitches. That work, coupled with Sano's pitch recognition skills, has paid dividends for the third baseman.

"I think he's gotten the barrel to some balls recently that maybe he wasn't getting to before," Baldelli said. "That's an impressive adjustment for any player to make. A swing path adjustment -- those don't come very easily. Most players can't make them."

"Staying more inside the ball and trying to put the ball in play more to the middle," Sano said. "That's what I've been doing. I'm playing really good right now."

Baldelli shares memories of hitting against Hall of Fame inductees

Mike Mussina: .115/.148/.154 (3-for-26, 2B, RBI)

"I remember just having no idea. I don’t remember having very much success against him and having no idea what he was going to throw every pitch. He wasn’t throwing exceptionally hard at that point in his career, and I know he threw harder earlier, which, I couldn’t imagine what that looked like.

"Obviously, he had the great curveball to start with, but he commanded all of his pitches really well. It was almost like he would leave in the offseason and come back and make a new pitch up like it was nothing, like it was no big deal. But never, ever did I feel good about knowing what might be coming, and there were at-bats where he would throw seven fastballs in a row and the next at-bat, he would throw three curveballs followed by a fastball followed by four changeups. It made no sense. Maybe that was part of what he did."

Roy Halladay:.333/.391/.619 (7-for-21, 2 HR, 2 RBI)

"He was like a machine, but he would just go out there and you knew exactly what was going to happen. You knew you were going to be in the seventh inning and he would have about 65 pitches and 60 strikes. You knew he was going to come at you and there was very little you could do about it.

"I remember him early on, when he was still throwing very hard, and the ball would just do things that looked very Wiffle ball-ish. I always compare some guys to playing Wiffle ball from too close, and he was one of those guys. It’s like, you know, when you’re playing Wiffle ball from 15 feet away instead of, like, the distance you should play it. And there’s just no way to react that fast. The ball’s coming 95 and starts at your letters and it ends up in the dirt and it’s a fastball. The command, exceptional. Everything was exceptional, and the more challenging the situation, the better he got."

Mariano Rivera: 1-for-4, 2 K

"Mariano, believe it or not, I probably didn’t have as many at-bats as I would have thought I would have had for that amount of time. Truthfully, those Yankee teams were really good and there were a lot of games that weren’t maybe close because they were just that good. They were that good of a team, so not getting that many at-bats off the closer was a real thing.

"Again, I think I remember facing one of his first two-seamers that he ever threw. I think I’ve maybe told that story before. That’s just another story, but I mean, he’s the best and an extremely quality individual and a guy that I think everybody was honored to be on the field with even though you’re competing against him. You know he was incredible."

Briefly

Matt Magill was traded to the Mariners on Sunday in exchange for cash considerations. Magill was designated for assignment on Thursday after posting a 4.45 ERA with 36 strikeouts and 15 walks in 28 1/3 innings out of the Twins' bullpen this season.