Rookie Vargas showing patience, intelligence at plate
MINNEAPOLIS — Kennys Vargas has only been at this for 2 1/2 weeks.
But the Twins’ rookie power man is already showing signs of being a savvy hitter.
The home runs — three in 15 games, including a two-run shot in Sunday’s elongated 12-6 loss to Kansas City — are impressive on their own. So are his power numbers since being called up July 31 from Double-A New Britain.
But Sunday, he showed something more. Patience. Intelligence.
"He has no fear, which he shouldn’t," said manager Ron Gardenhire, whose team fell to 55-67 and has lost seven of its past 11 and remains firmly at the bottom of the American League Central Division standings. "This is talking about a guy with not a lot of experience up here that doesn’t know these pitchers. It’s the first time, a lot of times through, with these guys, and it’s going pretty good."
The 6-foot-5, 273-pound Puerto Rican wisely laid off a pair of Jeremy Guthrie offerings before crushing a 91-mph cutter — the same pitch he’d seen two tosses earlier — over the flowers in right-center field in the bottom of the fifth at Target Field. In the eighth, Vargas worked his way into a 3-1 count against Jason Frasor before doubling to right, then coming home on Oswaldo Arcia’s blast over the right-field wall.
It’d be easy for a rookie 24-year-old of Vargas’ stature and ability to simply swing away the majority of the time. He’s not immune to that tendency, having struck out 19 times in 15 games.
But because of Vargas’ deliberate approach, he’s now batting .317 and slugging .500 with 15 RBI on the year.
Three of them came Sunday, as he went 3-for-4 and finished a triple short of the cycle.
"I try just to do the same approach: look for my pitch," Vargas said. "When I see my pitch, sometimes it’s ‘no,’ and I have to adjust a little bit. But when I see the pitch that I look for, I try to make the contact."
He wasn’t the only player to show some power in Sunday’s saturated matinee.
Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez and recent Twins trade piece Josh Willingham all homered for Kansas City. Arcia and Mauer added dingers of their own well after the Royals had taken the lead for good via a seven-run second inning just before the second of two rain delays was instituted.
The final tally was ugly. But it was good to see a pair of youngsters provide a glimpse into the future with their big bats, Gardenhire said. Same with Mauer, playing his sixth game since coming off the disabled list with a right oblique strain.
"We had some good swings today," Gardenhire said.
Wet and wild: Recently-acquired pitcher Tommy Milone will remember his Target Field debut for all the wrong reasons.
With pouring rain commencing in the second inning, Milone said he simply couldn’t grip the baseball. As a result, he pitched just 1 1/3 innings — the shortest start of his career. The Royals (68-55) tagged him for seven runs in the second on the way to their 20th win in their past 25 outings.
Gardenhire blamed the elements. "The weather was not conducive for pitching," Gardenhire said. "He tried to pitch through it, but it was pretty much a mess out there."
Milone, traded from Oakland to Minnesota in exchange for outfielder Sam Fuld, agreed with Gardenhire. But he wasn’t willing to deny any personal culpability.
"It seemed like every time I got a new ball, it was just immediately soaked," said Milone, who is 6-4 this season with a 3.99 ERA and 0-1 in two starts with the Twins. "But it’s one of those (where) you’ve just got to forget about it.
"I’ve still got to find a way to execute pitches."
Officials spared Guthrie (9-10, 4.48) from a similar plight as they suspended the game with one out in the bottom of the second. That led to a 54-minute intermission — 20 minutes longer than the precautionary weather delay that pushed the contest’s original start time from 1:10 p.m. to 1:44 p.m.
Milone wouldn’t elaborate much on the field conditions. But his manager and teammates characterized them as putrid.
"It was terrible, to be honest with you," said second baseman Brian Dozier, who while sliding in front of second couldn’t handle a fairly routine grounder he usually collects. "I don’t think I’ve ever played in that wet of weather.
"To be honest, it’s not fair to Tommy. He’s not going to sit here and make excuses — we’re not going to, either — but it just so happened to pour. I went up to the mound when he came out, and I could barely even stand on it, because it was like a slip-and-slide out there."
As Dozier answered reporters’ questions, catcher Kurt Suzuki strolled through the clubhouse and said "it was a joke. Tell it like it is."
Versatile Eduardo: When infielder Eduardo Escobar made his major-league debut as a 2011 September call-up, Gardenhire was under the impression the Venezuela native projected primarily as a third baseman.
But three years later, it’s been established the 25-year-old fits the definition of a utility man.
"When he came here, (our scouts) told me that third base was his best position, but I think he’s played outstanding baseball at shortstop," Gardenhire said. "He really does a nice job out there."
Escobar started at third Sunday for the first time since June 29. That allowed rookie Danny Santana to slide in at shortstop, his most natural position.
On the year, Escobar has started 60 games at short, 19 games at third base, three at second base and two in the outfield. For his career, the numbers are 92, 43, 12 and two, respectively.
"Catcher, pitcher . . . I’m just so happy to play in the game," cracked Escobar, who is pre-arbitration eligible after this season. "I’m ready for whatever."
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