MINNEAPOLIS — When Josmil Pinto debuted as a September call-up last season, he tore the cover off the ball. The young Twins catcher batted .342 with four homers and 12 RBI in a small, 21-game sample size.
Tuesday’s game against Toronto marks Pinto’s ninth game of the 2014 season, as he’s split time between designated hitter and backing up catcher Kurt Suzuki. It’s still early, but the 25-year-old Pinto is already showing signs that last year’s offensive numbers were no fluke.
In 26 at-bats, Pinto has already hit three homers — second-most on the team — and has driven in five runs while batting .231 heading into Tuesday.
"He stays on the ball with two strikes. He does a pretty decent job," said manager Ron Gardenhire. "Like all young hitters, he might chase out of the zone every once in a while. But if you make a mistake like we saw the other day, he can put it in the seats. He’s got a short, quick swing. He can use the whole field. He can drive it to right-center, left-center, out of the ballpark."
When the Twins signed Suzuki this offseason to replace Joe Mauer after Mauer moved from catcher to first base, the expectation was that Suzuki would do the bulk of the catching with Pinto as the backup. That’s proven true so far, as Pinto has started three of Minnesota’s first 13 games at catcher.
But Tuesday is his fifth start at designated hitter, partially due to the fact that outfielders and potential DH candidates Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia are on the disabled list. But it’s also a sign that the Twins want to get Pinto’s bat in the lineup as much as possible.
"You were hoping we’d figure this out in spring training," Gardenhire said. "We tried to work that through where you could use him more as a DH and get him more at-bats, and it didn’t work out out of spring training, obviously. We went a lot of different ways on a lot of arguments. With the injuries that we’ve had, this is kind of the way you like it because you want to see him swinging. I don’t want the kid just sitting there. Get him plenty of at-bats, and he’ll catch, too. …
"He’s pretty fun to watch, and he’s a hard-working young man. He really gets after it."
Twins, MLB honor Jackie Robinson: Tuesday marked the 67-year anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s major-league debut as he broke the color barrier and forever changed the game of baseball. Decades later, Major League Baseball teams pay tribute to the man responsible for helping integrate the sport.
The Twins and Blue Jays both donned their No. 42 jerseys, as did the rest of the teams throughout MLB. Minnesota also held Celebrate Diversity Day, which included pregame music and cultural performances. The Twins also honored Jackie Robinson essay-winners before the game.
"It’s something that baseball has done a very nice job with, recognizing Jackie and all of his accomplishments and everything he went through," Gardenhire said. "This is a neat thing. It always has been. It’s something that’s a really cool day for us all to be able to go out there and put that number on and think about how he came into this league and wouldn’t take no from anybody and played the game and respected the game and went through an awful lot to do it."
Robinson’s life was documented in the motion picture "42," which was released last year. Former Minnesota first baseman Justin Morneau had a brief cameo in the film as he was shown running onto the field wearing his No. 42 Twins jersey.
Robinson debuted on April 15, 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers and went on to play 10 seasons in the majors — all with Brooklyn. He batted .311 with 137 homers and 197 stolen bases and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.
Weather iffy for Wednesday’s game: Tuesday’s game was a chilly one at Target Field — the temperature for the first pitch at 7:10 p.m. was 35 degrees — but the April weather may be even less agreeable on Wednesday.
Forecasts call for temperatures in the mid-to-low 30s with a chance of snow Wednesday. A predicted three to five inches of snow could fall in the Twin Cities, meaning the second game of the three-game series between the Twins and Blue Jays could be in jeopardy.
"I wouldn’t be adverse to playing a split doubleheader Thursday and trying to get the series taken care of so Toronto wouldn’t have to come back," said Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony.
Minnesota and Toronto do have five mutual off days the rest of the season if weather interferes with Wednesday’s game, but MLB rules don’t allow a team to play more than 21 consecutive days in a row, something both sides would have to plan around if they chose to schedule a makeup game later in the season.
In the meantime, both teams braved the elements for Tuesday’s series opener. Twins players donned stocking caps during batting practice, but they cut their BP session a bit short. Toronto did not take batting practice on the field Tuesday.
"For the guys out there, I’ve played in cold games and it’s not easy," Gardenhire said. "You tell yourself to put it out of your mind. You just have to go play.’ You have to deal with it. Both teams are going to deal with it, but it’s not easy."