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Sano likely won’t stay as full-time designated hitter as Twins have other plans

MINNEAPOLIS -- The search is over. The Twins appear to finally have found their designated hitter.

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The Pioneer Press Minnesota Twins designated hitter Miguel Sano is hitting .378 with four doubles, two home runs and eight walks in 11 games since being called up from Double-A Chattanooga.

MINNEAPOLIS -- The search is over. The Twins appear to finally have found their designated hitter.

Since the Twins called Miguel Sano up from Double-A Chattanooga two weeks ago, the rookie is hitting .378 with four doubles, two home runs, eight runs batted in and eight walks in 11 games. In 10 of those games, Sano has been the DH.

The Twins hope Sano, one of baseball’s top prospects, will be a corner infielder. But at 22 years old, and listed at 6 feet 4 and 260 pounds - although general manager Terry Ryan insists he’s lighter - Sano looks like a prototypical DH.

“He just kind of fits the mold,” said manager Paul Molitor, for years one of baseball’s best designated hitters. “He’s a presence there. You can already tell people are pitching him carefully. It just stretches us out.”

But don’t expect Sano to be there for long.

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“We don’t consider him a DH. He’s going to be a player,” Ryan said. “He can be a force on the defensive side, as well. It’s just right now that’s the best fit. But down the line, I don’t think anybody in this organization considers him a DH at all.”

The Twins haven’t had a presence like Sano in the DH role since Jim Thome’s first year with the club in 2010, when he played in 108 games and hit 25 home runs with 59 RBIs. He was the DH in 79 of those games.

Minnesota hasn’t had a player DH more than 100 games in a season since Molitor did it 115 times in 1998.

The Twins weren’t particularly good that season, finishing 70-92 and fourth in the American League Central, but history has shown a regular designated hitter can be an asset. Seven of the past 10 AL champs, for instance, have had one player fill the DH spot for at least 100 regular-season games, including five of the past six.

The New York Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez has been the DH for 75 games this season, hitting .278 with 18 home runs and 51 RBIs, while Tampa Bay has used 17 players at DH, hitting a combined .298 with 10 homers and 38 RBIs.

“You can go about it any way you want,” Ryan said. “You can put somebody in there that might need a day (off) … you can have a guy like (Orioles DH Jimmy) Paredes, a switch-hitter that can do other things besides hit it over the fence; the Yankees have A-Rod. … It doesn’t matter how you do it, as long as you’ve got some production out of that position, which is good.”

Minnesota hasn’t gotten much of that in recent memory. In the past 15 seasons, the Twins’ DH production has placed in the top five in the American League just three times in terms of OPS - on-base plus slugging percentage, which measures a hitter’s ability to get on base and hit for power.

One of those years came in 2010 with Thome. Another came in 2001, when David Ortiz filled the position for 80 games. The third year came in 2009, when Jason Kubel was the DH for 82 games and hit .300 with 28 home runs and 103 RBIs.

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The Twins placed second in the AL Central in 2001 and won the division in both 2009 and 2010.

Before Sano, the Twins used eight designated hitters who hit for a combined .249 with six home runs and 30 RBIs in 69 games this season. If Sano isn’t the DH of the future, he has at least been a plug for a gaping hole.

Since Sano entered the lineup on July 2, the Twins are averaging 4.9 runs a game and won five of eight games against AL Central rivals Kansas City and Detroit.

“If you can have that piece in the American League, obviously to have some good production out of that slot when you’ve got the opportunity to use it, it’s a good thing for our team,” Molitor said.

But Molitor doesn’t think it’s a necessity in order to compete, as shown by the Twins’ success without any presence to speak of at DH for much of the first half of the season. Neither does Ryan.

“You don’t necessarily have to have a prototypical DH,” Ryan said, “which most teams don’t.”

Still, most of the best teams have at least a consistent presence in that spot. And Ryan would prefer to have one guy to plug in there every day.

“Boston’s done it with David (Ortiz) for many, many years,” Ryan said. “That isn’t too bad. That should have happened here, and I screwed that up. That’s not a bad way to go to let him get into the lineup for about 160 games a year and let him go, and you’d take that.”

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Ortiz, 39, is hitting .231 with 15 homers and 34 RBIs for Boston this season.

Sano could have that sort of presence in the Twins’ lineup the rest of this season, much like he did the past two weeks. And while he has limited experience at DH, he’s comfortable in the role. Plus, he’s bigger than Ortiz was as a rookie.

“It’s not a big deal,” Sano said. “I would play DH. I feel really good when I play DH.”

But he also feels good in the field. Sano has played one seamless game at third in the big leagues and has been doing some work at first and in the outfield before games.

Ryan said Sano believes he could play shortstop, as well.

“He can run, he can throw, he can field, he’s got enough range, he can play probably a couple of positions,” Ryan said. “I wouldn’t worry too much about him being a DH.”

Then who will be?

“I think all of us a year ago were probably thinking that (Kennys) Vargas was going to be that guy for many years,” Ryan said, “but we had to regroup.

“More importantly,” Ryan added, “is how many runs are you go to score with the lineup that you put out there.”


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