Miguel Sano hadn’t cut his hair in three years.
In fact, it was his grandmother, who has since passed away, who most recently cut his hair. At least that was true until Tuesday, when Twins barber Andy Fade sheared off Sano’s luxurious locks, going for more of a mohawk-like look.
Whether it was the haircut, or more accurately, all the hard work he put in after his reboot in Fort Myers, Sano was the center of attention following a 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates at Target Field on Tuesday night.
Sano’s eighth-inning home run — a majestic, opposite-field blast off Pirates reliever Richard Rodriguez, gave the Minnesota Twins a bit of breathing room as closer du jour Trevor Hildenberger came on to collect his second save of the season.
Hildenberger, who had allowed runs in each of his last four appearances, allowed one hit but erased it on a game-ending double play to give the Twins the win — their 15th in the last 19 games at Target Field.
Here’s what we saw from our vantage point:
Win probability table
Sano seemed to relish the spotlight, but he deserved it based on his performance on both sides of the ball
It wasn’t just that Sano homered to provide some nice insurance for the Twins late in the game. He also looked much quicker on the basepaths, and fans don’t even so much as gasp when a ball is hit his way at third base.
He looks thinner, more focused and more committed than perhaps ever in his big-league career, and manager Paul Molitor sees it starting to break through for the youngster, who for as long as he’s been talked about is still just 25.
“I think he’s been real close to clicking on some balls,” Molitor said after the game. “My observation is that the swings and misses are a lot less frequent, his chases out of the zone are a lot more rare and even when he was 0-for-4 the other day, there weren’t any strikeouts, so he’s staying on the ball better. And when he gets pitches to handle, he just missed a couple early in the game — but then he got that fastball and drove it out there.
“The upper deck in right is not easy to do here.”
Before Sano was sent to Fort Myers to get his career back in order, he was pulling off a lot of pitches on the outside half of the plate. Not so anymore, though Molitor said he still wasn’t particularly surprised Sano went the other way.
“Miggy knows the game better than you think,” Molitor said. “And while I didn’t give him a sign to get the runner over there — obviously I just wanted him to hit — I think subconsciously he knew that he could drive a ball out to right, and even if it ended up getting caught it he would have the chance to advance the runner given the situation there.”
The home run was Sano’s ninth of the season, and while he’s still hitting just .220/.293/.420 on the year, he has hits in four of the last five games and has seen his batting average slowly climb since his return.
Sano’s diagnosis of the opposite-field home run wasn’t much different than Molitor’s, though it was more based on what he was expecting than anything.
“You know, I got my first at-bat and he threw me a slider,” he said. “I went oppo. But I was thinking more to the middle. Fastball away, you can hit it over there. I go to the plate and only try hit the ball. It doesn’t matter which way they go. I don’t try to do too much. But sometimes it goes to right field, middle, left field. But you take the opportunity to try to hit the ball and do something good.”
The camera showed Sano with a baseball that had some words scrawled on it after the home run, and apparently, it was a gift from Twins starter Kyle Gibson.
Sano also added that he just likes the fact that his helmet stays on better when he runs with shorter hair, and even told a cautionary tale about it.
“I remember a friend a couple years ago, he was going to sign a big deal in like 2008,” Sano said, “and he was running and his helmet fell off and he broke his elbow. He was supposed to sign with Oakland for $1 or $2 million but a couple days before, that happened and now he doesn’t play.”
Well no matter what the reason, it doesn’t seem like he’s dealing with anything reminiscent of Samson from the Bible.
His power is fully intact.
Jake Odorizzi pitched fairly well
On a night where the umpiring was, to put it delicately, not great, Odorizzi did a solid job by fanning nine batters in 5.2 innings while allowing just four hits and two earned runs.
Both earned runs came in the second inning — the only runs of the night for the Pirates — as Pittsburgh took an early 2-0 lead. David Freese opened the inning with a single to right, and Josh Bell walked to move him to second.
Francisco Cervelli added a double to left-center to score Freese, and Colin Moran’s grounder to second brought home Bell with Pittsburgh’s second run. The game shifted significantly — though perhaps it wasn’t totally evident in the moment — on Odorizzi’s 3-2 pitch to Josh Harrison with Cervelli standing on third base.
Harrison dropped his bat thinking he’d taken a walk when Odorizzi’s 91 mph fastball sailed about four inches out of the strike zone, but umpire Joe West rung him up, much to the dismay of the Pirates utility infielder. Jordy Mercer followed with a walk, but Odorizzi managed to get leadoff hitter Corey Dickerson to pop to Logan Forsythe to end the threat.
Without the beneficial call from West, it’s hard to say where the inning goes from there, though it’s not hard to argue that the bases could easily have been loaded for the Pirates to turn the order over.
And if you’re wondering where the pitch was that had Harrison hot, here’s what Baseball Savant has:
The orange dot that is clearly outside the strike zone represents strike three to Harrison, who luckily enough was not thrown out of the game by West.
Overall, Odorizzi had nine swinging strikes on 102 pitches (67 strikes), but a big help was that he threw first-pitch strikes to 16 of the 23 batters he faced.
“I thought controlling my split tonight was the difference-maker,” he said. “(That’s the difference) between average outings and above-average outings.”
Odorizzi had two of his swinging strikes on the split — two more on the slider and five on his four-seam fastball — but it looks like out of 19 he threw, 11 were strikes. That’s a good ratio on that type of pitch.
The win was Odorizzi’s first in more than a month — dating back to July 8 — but he shrugged it off.
“I more so just care about if we win the day I pitch,” he said. “My record can be whatever it is, but if we win two-thirds of the games I pitch, I think that’s a pretty good statistic. Individual wins are whatever. Team wins is what we need, so as long as I can keep us in every game, give us a chance to win, that’s what’s important.”
The Twins bullpen — despite all the new faces — was excellent…
As Odorizzi’s pitch count rose in the sixth inning, he also pitched his way into a bit of trouble with runners on first and second and two outs.
Molitor went to Tyler Duffey, who was recently recalled to fill the roster spot of Fernando Rodney, and who hasn’t fared particularly well in his career with runners on:
Tyler Duffey coming in.
Duffey's career FIP by situation:
Bases empty – 3.44
Runners on – 5.20
RISP – 5.06
— Brandon Warne (@Brandon_Warne) August 15, 2018
With that said, Duffey used a nasty curveball on 3-2 to strike out Cervelli — one pitch after he thought he had painted the bottom corner of the strike zone with a beautiful 93 mph four-seam fastball.
But instead, he buried the knucklecurve, and then went on to retire all three batters he faced in the seventh to help maintain the team’s 3-2 lead.
From Duffey, Molitor handed the ball to Taylor Rogers, who has absolutely owned left-handed hitters this season and who has also seen his season numbers take a drastic step forward.
Rogers got outs from two of the three batters he faced — both strikeouts — and in the process lowered his season ERA to 3.65 (2.49 FIP) with a career-best 10.4 K/9 and a meager 2.4 BB/9.
Rogers is still drastically better against lefties (1.14 FIP) than righties (3.87 FIP), but he’s shown enough this year that it’s clear Molitor is going to trust him later in games than he did early on this season.
With the top of the order — lefty-righty-lefty — due up, Rogers started the eighth but was lifted for Matt Magill after Starling Marte doubled to right in the middle of the two lefties.
Magill allowed an infield single to Freese and walked Bell, but came back to get Cervelli to pop to second to work out of damage. It was a very piecemeal approach by Molitor to build a bridge to Hildenberger, but that’s what good managers are capable of — massaging the matchups to get to your guy at the end.
Hildenberger did a great job in the ninth, inducing three grounders — including the double play to end it — for save No. 2 in a row. When things are going Hildenberger’s way, he’ll induce plenty of grounders. This year that number is at just 45.6 percent, but in his breakout rookie campaign, it was 58.8 percent.
As a general reminder, the league-average mark is around 45 percent. And since grounders rarely go for extra-base hits and are easily turned into outs more often than not, they’re typically the preferred batted ball for a pitcher to induce.
In this one, he did a good job. All told, the four relievers after Odorizzi got 10 outs with three strikeouts, one walk and three hits.
…Joe West, on the other hand, was not
There was no shortage of pitches he absolutely blew, but here’s where another one was when he rang up Harrison later in the game.
In this case, the orange dot near the bottom was the pitch Harrison was called out on, but West pretty clearly missed a slider at the top of the zone earlier in the plate appearance.
Here’s another one that could have really hurt the Twins. This was the strike call that West missed that forced Duffey to throw a 3-2 pitch to Cervelli with two on and two out in the sixth inning.
Sure enough, West made history by umpiring the 5,163rd game of his career, tying him for second all-time with Bruce Froemming behind all-time leader Bill Klem (5,369). But it’s not hard to see why he’s not especially well-regarded in today’s game.
A key moment late in the game actually came on a play that wasn’t made
In the eighth inning with Freese up, Magill on the mound and two outs, the veteran third baseman hit a slow roller to Jorge Polanco’s right. With the shortstop shifted over toward second base because Freese is one of the best opposite-field hitters of this era, by the time he reached the ball, he had virtually no chance to make a play.
That didn’t deter Sano from making a throw on the last homestand, one that got past first baseman Logan Morrison and eventually led to runs. In this case, Polanco putting the ball in his back pocket and living to play another day instead of trying to be the hero was the right play.
For a young player, those aren’t always as easy or as obvious as they seem.
Eddie Rosario did the baserunning thing again
In late May, Rosario deked Tigers outfielder Leonys Martin into throwing the ball softly into the infield, allowing him to scamper home with an important run in a 4-2 win.
Rosario did something similar in this one, as he came around to score the tying run in the fourth inning on a Jorge Polanco single.
The Twins had a double — from Rosario — and four singles in the inning, and took the lead after the Pirates struck first two innings earlier. Rosario doubled into the right-field corner to move Joe Mauer to third base, and both came home when Jorge Polanco rolled a ball through the right side.
Pirates right fielder Gregory Polanco came up with a low, off-line throw in the general direction of home, and despite third-base coach Gene Glynn giving him the stop sign, Rosario saw the throw and decided to go for broke, scoring easily to tie the game.
It was just another in the list of plays Rosario has made this year by taking risks.
Sometimes it’s good; sometimes it’s bad. But Rosario’s manager is aware of his aggressiveness and doesn’t want him to lose it.
- The Twins improved to 34-24 at Target Field this season, and 18-13 against the Pirates in Minneapolis all-time.
- Sano’s home run was his first at Target Field since May 31 against Cleveland.
- Mauer (2-for-3) recorded his 25th multi-hit game of the season and 558th of his career, per the game notes.
- Rosario’s double was his 30th of the season, a team-high now that Eduardo Escobar has been traded.
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