The Minnesota Twins are still below .500, trailing the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers in the AL Central, but with better weather has come better results. After losing 11 of 12 games at the end of April, the Twins got back on track with a 7-3 road trip — and should add some key pieces by the end of May.
Miguel Sano and Trevor May should be the first to return, with Ervin Santana eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list on May 28.
“I thought he looked significantly better,” said manager Paul Molitor on Friday, noting that he was moving well on Wednesday. “Better effort means less pain. We’re going to have to have a conversation today about whether he’s ready to start a rehab. If not, it’s imminent and that’s encouraging.”
Sano has been maligned recently for his weight issues, but was an All-Star last year when he hit 28 home runs with a .264/.352/.507 line following a 25-homer season in 2016. At 25, he should be entering his prime but hasn’t played since April 27 after straining his left hamstring.
Molitor seemed less encouraged by Sano’s process earlier in the week.
“He’s still a little tentative, for me, in how he’s going about it. I don’t know how you would judge the level of effort he’s giving on some of the running he’s doing. But to me, it’s not very close to 100 percent,” said Molitor. “The swing’s fine, he looks pretty good taking grounders, but those hamstrings, to practice and try to get ready to compete in a game and then be able to sustain for nine innings for multiple days consecutive, that’s a challenge with that type of injury.”
But he seems to have experienced a rapid turnaround recently.
“I didn’t get to see the ground ball portion, but the running, I didn’t see him holding back too much, which was good to see,” he said on Friday. “We’re just going to try to figure out the plan and see how long it takes for him to show us he’s ready to be an everyday player for us.”
With Logan Morrison’s slump and Sano’s absence, Molitor has rotated Eduardo Escobar, Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario through the middle of the order. All three players are hitting well, but none of them are prototypical cleanup hitters.
“I think every team has to go through losing big bats along the way,” said Molitor. “We did it last year for the last six weeks of the season, at least. It makes a difference. It balances us out, left-right a little bit better. Another threat to hit the ball over the fence. I think everyone is aware when his at-bats are coming around.”
Morrison hit .145/.253/.250 in April but is hitting .300/.386/.560 in May. He spent the first four years of his career with the Miami Marlins, played under a roof with the Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays and made it clear he wasn’t thrilled with the cold April in Minneapolis.
“I really haven’t played in that much cold,” he told the Pioneer Press in April. “Maybe Philly early in the season, back in the day. It might have been 35 (degrees) and raining.”
“I think you can go through a guy’s resume and see who’s traditionally a slow starter,” said Molitor. “It’s usually weather related for the most part. Most of our minor-league teams have always been in northern climates too. We’ve had guys historically who have struggled to get going. Most hitters would choose warm weather.”
Not only is the middle of the order rounding out as the weather gets better, however, but the pitching staff should get a boost soon as well. While both the rotation and the bullpen have been stronger than in the recent past, May could add depth regardless of if he returns as a starter or a reliever.
May, who hasn’t pitched since 2016 and started the year on the 60-day disabled list, has made two rehab starts and pitched well. He pitched three scoreless innings in his first rehab start at Class High-A Fort Myers, allowing three walks and a hit while striking out five. In his second start he gave up one run in four innings while striking out five and walking two in Triple-A.
“I read (the minor league reports) as well as heard from someone in our organization who was at the game,” said Molitor, referring to director of pro scouting Brad Steil. “It’s not just that he threw all his pitches. It’s more hearing that the shape of the pitches are what they should look like.”
May threw 60 pitches and will be stretched out to 75 in his next rehab start.
“Really, the only small negative was he had trouble sustaining velocity,” said Molitor, “which I don’t think anybody was surprised by given how things were going down in Florida before he went up there. But it was a good step.”
Molitor said May threw between 88 and 93 mph, “which is good,” added Molitor, “but he was up early and kind of regressed as the outing went on.”
Santana threw a 50-pitch simulated game in Fort Myers and is scheduled to throw 60 pitches early next week in extended spring training. If that goes well, he will make his first start in Class A, which would start his 30-day rehab clock.
“All positive,” he said. “Everyone tells me he’s getting excited about getting in a game.”
If Sano, May and Santana can heal by June, they may be able to catch the Twins in an updraft. Minnesota has stabilized after a tough stretch at the end of April, and has done so short-handed, but they will likely need a full roster to get over .500 for good.