The high ankle sprain suffered by Mitch Garver on Tuesday not only cost the Twins their hot-hitting catcher for what likely will be a month, but it also expedited the rehab process for third baseman Miguel Sano.
Sano was recalled on Wednesday morning and joined the Twins for their 8-7 victory over Los Angeles at Target Field. The Twins had until early next week before they had to bring back Sano from Triple-A Rochester — he missed the first 41 games of the big-league season because of a right heel laceration — and there was always a chance they could have used his final available option to allow him additional time in the minors.
It was clear there was no hurry to bring back Sano.
This wasn’t a punishment, rather a chance for the Twins to take their time in making sure Sano was put in the best position to succeed when he did arrive at Target Field. It made sense given some of Sano’s previous struggles in the field, his issues with keeping excessive weight of his 6-foot-4 frame and his general inability to not have something go wrong when it looked as if he might be doing things right.
That was the case this offseason when Sano reportedly suffered a nasty laceration on his heel during an off-the-field celebration for his Winter League team. It was during spring training that the Twins decided Sano’s injury wasn’t healing properly and he underwent a procedure that kept him out to start the year.
The 26-year-old Sano returned to Minnesota — he did not play on Wednesday — with the team missing not only Garver but also designated hitter Nelson Cruz. Cruz left Sunday’s game against Detroit because of a wrist injury and hasn’t played since. Garver was put on the 10-day injured list on Wednesday. That is a combined 16 home runs and 41 runs batted in on the sideline.
The team’s desire to be patient with Sano fits very much with how the brain trust of Derek Falvey, Thad Levine and manager Rocco Baldelli like to operate. But, if Cruz remains out for any period of time, the reality is this: There is going to be pressure on Sano to produce.
Sano went 4-for-5 with a home run and three RBIs in two games at Single-A Fort Myers, and then was 4-for-13 with an RBI in three games at Rochester.
Entering his fifth big-league season and two years removed from an appearance in the All-Star Game, Sano is running out of chances to prove he belongs in the big leagues. That’s remarkable considering how much potential Sano showed in 2015 when he hit .269/.385/.530 with 18 home runs and 52 RBIs in 80 games after being called up. Sano also struck out 119 times in 335 at-bats but he seemed to have a sound approach at the plate.
That was long gone by last season when the Twins demoted Sano all the way to Fort Myers in June to work on his conditioning. Sano was that out of shape and looked lost at the plate. He eventually was recalled and then spent the offseason continuing to work on his conditioning. He arrived at spring training in noticeably better shape but in a walking boot because of his injury.
The Twins didn’t say it but this was the season in which one-time super prospects Byron Buxton and Sano need to prove they belonged. Buxton, whose desire and conditioning has never been questioned, has spent the first month-plus of the year looking like a guy who was ready to answer the challenge. He’s played a gold glove center field and is hitting .278/.336/.500 with two home runs and 16 RBIs. Buxton’s second homer of the season, a two-run shot, came in the fifth inning Wednesday.
The Twins are now in a position where they could use some pop in the middle of the order from Sano to make up for what has been lost with Cruz and Garver ailing. The Twins hold a 4.5-game lead over second-place Cleveland in the American League Central so they don’t need Sano to carry them, but a contribution (and drama free summer) would be appreciated.
Can Sano provide that? Sooner than the Twins likely wanted, they’re about to find out.