MINNEAPOLIS — A game-used baseball wrapped in a plastic bag sat on a shelf in Danny Santana’s locker prior to Saturday’s game against Houston. The memento was the ball that Santana hit for his first big-league home run Friday, which he was able to retrieve from the fan who caught it in left field.
One day after the first homer of his career, Santana had another memorable day at the plate. The 23-year-old Santana collected four hits and drove in five runs — both of which were career highs — to lift Minnesota to an 8-0 win Saturday against the visiting Astros.
"He’s swinging it. He’s swinging really good," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Santana. "He came up in big situations, driving the ball. One ball might have been over his head that he shot out in the gap the other way. . . . A good ballgame by us, really."
Saturday marked Santana’s 21st career game in the major leagues after debuting earlier this season, but it was just his second career start as Minnesota’s designated hitter. The first time was Friday, the same night he slugged his first major league homer and drove in a pair of runs.
Batting in the leadoff spot once again, Santana certainly played the part of a designated hitter Saturday. He put the Twins up 3-0 with a two-run, two-out single to right field in the bottom of the second inning.
Two innings later, Santana drove in two more runs with a double to left-center field that scored Kurt Suzuki from third and Eduardo Escobar from second to put Minnesota ahead by a comfortable 5-0 margin. That was plenty of run support for Twins starter Kyle Gibson, who tossed seven scoreless innings en route to his fifth victory of the season.
But Santana wasn’t done. He picked up his third hit of the day with a two-out single to center in the fifth inning. Then in the bottom of the seventh, he drove in his fifth and final run of the game. The five RBI on Saturday matched the total number of runs he’d driven in during his first 20 games. It was also his highest RBI total since 2009 when he had six RBI for the Gulf Coast League Twins.
To top off his impressive day at the plate, Santana — whose English remains a work in progress — conducted his postgame interview without the use of a translator.
"I feel comfortable," Santana said. "I try to do everything I do for the team."
Minnesota used Brian Dozier in the leadoff spot for much of the season, but Santana has now been in that spot in six of his last seven games. During that stretch as the leadoff hitter, Santana is hitting .360 (9-for-25) with seven RBI and a pair of runs.
Naturally an infielder, Santana has now played more games in center field (12) than he has in the infield (seven games at shortstop). The Twins view Santana as a long-term shortstop, but his athleticism has allowed him to play the outfield as well.
Now Santana is showing he can also handle the pressure that accompanies the leadoff spot in the batting order, and he looks more comfortable at the plate each time he steps into the batter’s box.
"They’re using a lot of breaking balls with me," Santana said of opposing pitchers. "Young guys like to swing. Sometimes I swing at bad pitches."
"He’s taking his swings. He doesn’t know these pitchers, so he’s making some adjustments," Gardenhire said. "He sees a breaking ball the first time and then he’s looking for it the next time. He’s doing fine. The kid’s fun to watch."