Morales finally gives Twins dangerous DH

Despite going hitless Tuesday against Boston, Kendrys Morales is still batting .273 with four RBI in eight games with Minnesota and had hits in his first six games.

Tom Szczerbowski

Just eight games into his tenure in Minnesota, it’s too early to predict the impact Kendrys Morales will have on the Twins’ season. But one thing is for certain: Minnesota’s lineup looks more formidable with Morales’ bat in the heart of the order.

The Twins signed Morales on June 8 after the veteran free agent sat and waited for more than two months for a team to ink him to a deal. Minnesota was hanging around in the American League Central at the time, as no team has since run away with the division. But the Twins wanted to inject some life into their offense, so they went out and spent roughly $7.5 million to get Morales and his 102 career home runs.

"A big bat," said Twins first baseman Joe Mauer. "He swings the bat well. He can produce a lot of runs."

The addition of Morales has made Minnesota’s lineup deeper from top to bottom. After batting sixth in his first game with the Twins — just one day after he signed — Morales has since batted fifth in each of the last seven games. Despite going hitless Tuesday against Boston, Morales is still batting .273 with four RBI in eight games with Minnesota and had hits in his first six games.

Throughout his career, Morales has batted cleanup more than any other spot in the order. But since he’s joined the Twins, Minnesota has used Josh Willingham in that No. 4 spot each time, with Morales batting right behind Willingham in seven of eight games. Morales does have plenty of experience hitting fifth — 144 games in his career — and was hitting .301 with 33 homers and 40 RBI as the No. 5 batter prior to Tuesday.

With Morales in the fifth spot, the rest of Minnesota’s hitters have moved down in the order. That means right fielder Oswaldo Arcia — who has struggled offensively as of late — was dropped to sixth. Meanwhile, third baseman and team RBI leader Trevor Plouffe was batting seventh prior to landing on the disabled list earlier this week. That left a combination of catcher Kurt Suzuki and Eduardo Nunez or Eduardo Escobar as the Twins’ eighth and ninth hitters, and none of those three are easy outs.

"I see the games. I see guys that play with a lot of emotion, a lot of hustle," Morales said of the Twins lineup when he signed, with translation help from bullpen coach Bobby Cuellar. "I just want to be here and come in here and just be part of a group that’s going out and playing hard every day."

Having Morales on the roster has meant another wrinkle for Minnesota’s lineup: for the first time in a long time, the Twins have a full-time designated hitter.

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While Morales can play first base, he has yet to spend an inning there for Minnesota. Manager Ron Gardenhire has been able to pencil Morales in at the DH spot every day. He no longer has to figure out which player will be his designated hitter on a given night.

Prior to Morales coming on board, Minnesota used 10 different players at designated hitter. The one used most often, backup catcher Josmil Pinto, has since been optioned to Triple-A after Morales was added to the roster. Tuesday was Morales’ eighth game at DH, which is already tied with Mauer for the second-most games at DH this year.

In 2013, Minnesota used eight different players as the designated hitter, with none accumulating more than 47 games at DH. The year before, it was a combination of seven players filling the DH spot. And even with Jim Thome on the roster in 2011, Minnesota used a whopping 12 different designated hitters.

As long as Morales stays healthy, Gardenhire and the Twins may finally have a full-time designated hitter they’ve lacked for years.

"That’s not something you avoid, I don’t think, but if you’ve got a guy that’s the ideal DH description, this guy’s probably it," said Twins general manager Terry Ryan. "There’s one other one that I had once."

Ryan was alluding David Ortiz, who spent six years with Minnesota and was primarily a designated hitter in his final two seasons with the Twins in 2001 and 2002. Ortiz has since become a star with the Boston Red Sox and has arguably been the best designated hitter in baseball for the past decade.

Even with Morales in the lineup, the Twins’ offense has hit a bit of a skid. Minnesota has scored just one run through two games at Fenway Park heading into Wednesday’s series finale. Still, the hope remains that Minnesota’s bats will warm up to back up the solid starting pitching the Twins have received as of late.

If that is to happen, there’s a good chance Morales will be part of the solution.

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