Mastroianni ‘a very exciting baseball player’

MINNEAPOLIS — Twins outfielder Darin Mastroianni isn’t in the starting lineup too often, but when he is he’s been making the most of it.

Mastroianni did exactly that on Monday, as he got the start in place of the injured Denard Span. Mastroianni went 3-for-5 with three RBI and also made a highlight reel catch in right field to propel Minnesota to a 9-3 win over the visiting Detroit Tigers.

It was just Mastroianni’s second start in the past seven games, but the speedy outfielder doesn’t seem to miss a beat even when he’s not getting regular at-bats.

“We work really hard in trying to simulate games when I’m not playing every day, and simplify my swing so I don’t have to waste at-bats and I can go out there and be ready when I am up there,” Mastroianni said after Monday’s three-hit night. “So I do feel comfortable. These guys are good, so it doesn’t make it very easy to feel really good in the box, but we work really hard.”

Span injured himself in Sunday’s finale against Tampa Bay when he dove for a ball and landed awkwardly on his shoulder. Span said before Monday’s game that he felt better than he did a day earlier but was still listed day-to-day. In the meantime, Mastroianni will get some extra playing time as the Twins’ fourth outfielder.

“You just want somebody to step right in,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “It’s my job to make sure I give him plenty of at-bats to keep him where he does get in. these situations. … Denard goes down, so you see him step out there and he was pretty good. That was a heck of a night against a good baseball team.”

Mastroianni’s third home run of the season barely cleared the fence in left field, but it still counted for a run as it sailed over Andy Dirks’ head. The solo shot off Anibal Sanchez put the Twins up 2-1 in the fifth.

The homer was estimated at 366 feet and hit off the top of the wall, but Mastroianni thought it was going farther when it initially left his bat.

“Honestly when I hit it I thought it was way gone, and I kind of started jogging to first and I saw Andy (Dirks) get ready to jump and was like, ‘Oh, this is so embarrassing. He’s going to catch this,'” Mastroianni said. “So when I saw it bounce up and over it was kind of a relief. I thought I hit it farther than that. But it got out.”

After his homer, Mastroianni wasn’t done at the plate. With two outs in the bottom of the sixth and Minnesota holding onto a 3-1 lead, Mastroianni broke the game open with a two-out single to center, driving in Jamey Carroll and Alexi Casilla. Mastroianni over-slid the bag at second base and was tagged out for the final out of the inning, but by then both runs had already scored.

Although he now has just 120 plate appearances with the Twins this season, Mastroianni moved into a tie for second on the team with 14 stolen bases with a steal in the first inning. Fellow outfielder Ben Revere leads the team with 28 steals but has done so in 360 plate appearances.

Mastroianni still managed to impact the game after driving in three runs. With Detroit’s Prince Fielder batting, Mastroianni made a diving catch in right field to rob Fielder of what likely would have been extra bases and an RBI. The catch left Dirks on second base and Miguel Cabrera at first with one out. Dirks later came around to score, but Mastroianni’s catch limited the damage.

After playing in just one game for the Toronto Blue Jays last season, Mastroianni was claimed off waivers by the Twins this past February. Monday marked his 51st game in a Minnesota uniform, and he’s proving that he and the Twins have been a good fit. These last two months of the season could be an audition of sorts for Mastroianni as he makes his case to stick with Minnesota as a fourth outfielder.

If he keeps putting together games like Monday, it’ll certainly give the Twins something to think about.

“When they sent him up here from Triple A, they told me he was their most exciting baseball player,” Gardenhire said. “I agree 100 percent with them. He’s a very exciting baseball player. … . He’s been a big boost for this baseball team every time we get him out there.”

Mastroianni was asked Monday why the Blue Jays ever let him go in the first place. While he doesn’t completely understand the decision, he’s happy with the way things have turned out.

“It’s a business, and that was what they felt the organization needed,” he said. “Fortunately for me I got claimed by this organization and I’ve been very fortunate to be here, and I’m very happy to be here. I love this organization and this city, and I hope I’ll be here for a long time.”

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