Escobar a hit for Twins with newfound opportunity

Minnesota's Eduardo Escobar is currently batting a team-high .337 (30-for-89). His 12 doubles are second-best on the Twins roster.

Christopher Hanewinckel

Twins infielder Eduardo Escobar isn’t quite an everyday player, but he’s closer to being one now than he was just a month ago.

When Minnesota optioned shortstop Pedro Florimon to Triple-A Rochester as Florimon struggled offensively, that opened a door for Escobar to get more playing time — and he’s reaping the benefits at the plate. While he’s moved around the field quite a bit this season, Escobar feels most at home at shortstop. Now that he’s in the lineup on a regular basis, the 25-year-old utility player is finally comfortable on offense.

"I’ve got an opportunity to play every day, so my swing is ready," Escobar said. "When I play every day I’m more concentrated on my at-bats and my swing is much better. It’s different when I play every day. It’s pretty good right now."

Escobar didn’t bat in the series finale against San Diego on Wednesday — he entered the game in a double switch and only played the field — but he did start at shortstop one game earlier. Entering this weekend’s series against San Francisco, Escobar is now batting a team-high .337 (30-for-89). His 12 doubles trail only Trevor Plouffe, who now has 18 doubles to lead the American League.

And Escobar has done much of his damage while hitting near the end of the Twins’ lineup. All but one of his starts have come when Escobar has hit in the bottom third of Minnesota’s batting order. He’s batted ninth 12 times, eighth five times and seventh four times. Because Escobar is getting on base — his on-base percentage of .362 is fourth on the team — the top of Minnesota’s batting order has cashed in with Escobar helping turn the lineup over. There’s not a hole in the order when opposing pitchers face the Twins’ No. 9 batter.

"Early on, the bottom of the lineup was struggling to get on base. He’s been a huge, huge bump for us, flipping the lineup over like Gardy likes to do," said second baseman and leadoff hitter Brian Dozier. "He’s not been just like Punch-and-Judy singles and stuff. He’s been driving the ball in the gaps and hitting doubles and stuff like that. To have a guy that, coming into the year was fighting for a utility job and now he’s the everyday shortstop pretty much, it’s pretty cool."

Dozier has been one of the biggest benefactors of Escobar getting on base, as four of Dozier’s 25 RBI have been a result of driving Escobar in. But that duo has had to adjust to playing next to each other in the middle of the infield.

After Florimon started the majority of Minnesota’s games at shortstop last year, Dozier and his double-play partner knew what the other was going to do on ground balls up the middle. While Escobar has handled himself fine at shortstop, it’s been a bit different for Dozier compared to playing with Florimon.

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"He’s actually still learning, and I’m learning from him," Dozier said of Escobar. "It’s not like he does his thing, I do my thing. We have to click as one up the middle. I’ve got to make adjustments to fit his needs and vice versa."

Before Escobar was getting more regular playing time at shortstop, manager Ron Gardenhire put Escobar in the outfield a few times, as well as a few games at third base. Escobar made his first appearance of the year in left field back on April 6 after entering the game as a pinch hitter. He later started back-to-back games in the outfield — once in left field and once in center — in Minnesota’s series in Cleveland earlier this month.

It was a bit of an adventure at times, but Escobar’s versatility has added to his value on the Twins’ roster.

"He’s swinging the heck out of the bat right now for us," Gardenhire said. "It’s fun to have him out there. I like to have him on the ballclub. He’s a good kid."

Escobar’s career high for big-league games played in a season was 66, and that came last year. He’s already played in 31 of Minnesota’s 44 games this year and is not sitting on the bench as much as he grew accustomed to in previous seasons.

If Escobar continues to swing the bat as well as he has, Gardenhire will have a hard time keeping him out of the lineup.

"I like it when I play. I play left field, center field, whatever they want me to play is OK," Escobar said. "Whatever position I’m playing, I like it when I play every day."

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