Notes: Sanó nearly ready; Pineda uncertain

May 4th, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS -- The power packed into Miguel Sanó's muscular frame was on full display before Monday's series opener against the Rangers, as he handled the velocity machine with ease during a pregame session on the field. Ball after ball pelted Target Field's upper deck, with a handful of hard liners even shot to right field.

The question, then, is if he can translate that into game action when he's activated from the injured list.

With Sanó nearly recovered from the mild right hamstring strain that has sidelined him since April 21, he's eligible to come off the IL any day, and manager Rocco Baldelli said on Sunday that he expects the slugger to be activated "sometime in the middle of the week."

But the Twins have been as focused on getting Sanó's timing right as they have been on his health following a 5-for-45 start to the season, with 20 strikeouts, before he went on the shelf. The work with the velocity machine is an important part of that.

"There’s a verbal component to this and having him thinking certain things that may shorten him down a little bit, swing-wise, work more directly to the ball and things like that," Baldelli said. "But getting him out there on the field has been the thing that has helped the most."

Sanó is no stranger to timing issues, which have come and gone throughout his career. That's part of what lends itself to his streaky tendencies; he's alternated between tough stretches, like this April, and otherworldly months such as July 2019, when he hit .300/.411/.613 as part of his best season as a Major Leaguer.

Baldelli says the key to Sanó's success is the ability to damage hittable fastballs, which he hasn't done this year. His plate approach has actually been great, with a career- and team-high 22.4 percent walk rate. He's chasing out of the zone less frequently, and he's making contact on more of those pitches, too.

The problem has been that he's only making contact on 62.8 percent of pitches inside the zone, well below his previous career low -- including hittable fastballs. There's some urgency for him to get that working, especially with interim first baseman and top prospect Alex Kirilloff off to a hot start.

But Sanó has weathered such stretches before, and Baldelli is confident the slugger will snap into form soon.

"You almost wish it was a little more steady and he didn’t have to deal with it, either," Baldelli said. "Not just the production but, you know, being a player and having to ride those waves is not the easiest thing to do. But he handles things actually pretty well. Even through the good times and the bad."

Pineda's next start date uncertain

The Twins haven't named their starters for the final two games of the series against the Rangers, and much of that has to do with the status of , whose between-starts routine has been affected by inflammation in his right wrist.

The issue stems from when he was hit by a comebacker during the fifth inning of his Friday start against Kansas City. He completed that inning and reported feeling no worse for the wear immediately after the game, but Baldelli said he has since dealt with some stiffness in the area.

"I would say he’s been a little sore, nothing I’m worried about long-term," Baldelli said. "It’s just when we’re talking about a matter of days, we’re going to need specifics, and we’re going to really need to know if he can go or not."

If the Twins stay in rotation order, Pineda would pitch on Wednesday, and Matt Shoemaker would start on Thursday. They would likely need to call a spot starter if Pineda were to need another day -- though it likely couldn't be Randy Dobnak, who was optioned off the roster on Monday.

Dobnak optioned; Waddell recalled

The Twins optioned Dobnak to Triple-A St. Paul on Monday in an effort to get him stretched out to a starter's workload and into a more consistent rhythm after they struggled to give him consistent outings in the first month of the season. Reliever Brandon Waddell was recalled.

That inconsistency in his usage might have played into his 8.16 ERA through seven appearances.

"Just with the way the first month played out, we haven’t been able to keep him in that spot," Baldelli said. "I mean, there’s only so much you can do during a Major League season to make sure a guy gets his work in, especially out of the bullpen."

Though the Twins originally carried Dobnak on the roster to use him as an extra starter or a long reliever, they have played too many close games for him to see action in relief -- and all five of their starters have stayed healthy.

"Do we know exactly, when he returns, exactly what the role is going to be? I can’t say we know that very specifically," Baldelli said. "But there are a lot of different scenarios this year where Randy ends up needing to go out there and start for us, or we need him to go out there and give us four or five innings, and give us 85 pitches or more."