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By slowing things down, Max Kepler able to speed up his progress in the big leagues

Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS – Perhaps Miguel Sano decided a bit of embellishment was necessary or maybe he just didn’t remember. But in the midst of driving in seven runs on Saturday in the Twins’ 17-5 victory over the Texas Rangers at Target Field, Max Kepler got some incorrect information from his teammate.

“Sano was telling me he had eight during a game, so I was a little bummed out about that,” Kepler said. “But everybody on the bench was like, ‘No, he didn’t.’”

The guys on the bench were right. Kepler went 2-for-5 Saturday, with his first hit being a three-run home run off Cesar Ramos in the second inning and his second being a three-run home run in the fifth inning off Luke Jackson, and his seven RBIs established a Twins rookie record.

Sano, Oswaldo Arcia and Tony Oliva had the previous high for a Twins rookie with six RBIs in a game. Kepler came within one of equaling the franchise single-game record set by Glenn Adams in June 1977 and matched by Randy Bush in May 1989.

Sano might want to take the next opportunity he has to have a discussion with Kepler to thank his teammate. Kepler is the big reason the Twins pretty much made it official on Friday that they are ending the silly experiment of having Sano play right field.

Sano, in his second game back from the disabled list, started a second consecutive game at third base on Saturday and went 1-for-4 with a home run and three RBIs. He looks far more confident in the field playing third than he ever did playing right.

Kepler, meanwhile, appears at home in right after managing to get an extended look at the position.

The 23-year-old did not begin the season with the Twins, but was called up from Triple-A Rochester on April 10 to replace the injured Danny Santana. Kepler had only 12 at-bats in nine games before being sent back to the Red Wings.

But the Twins recalled Kepler in early June and, with Sano on the disabled list because of a strained hamstring, he saw significant playing time in right field. Kepler’s first big-league home run came on June 12, when his three-run shot in the bottom of the 10th gave the Twins a 7-4 victory over Boston at Target Field.

Kepler had only two runs batted in in his first 19 games, but has 20 RBIs in the past 19.

“I think we’re seeing improvement in the quality of at-bats day to day, whether it’s a righty or a lefty,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “I think he’s learning, he’s paying attention, he’s making adjustments. But you know when you have a little bit of success, you get some hits, you hit a couple of balls over the fence, you have a big day like today, I think it bodes well for where he’s at mentally. But he’s still learning. He’s got a lot of skill and we’re just going to try to continue to find ways to polish it up a little bit.”

The thing that impresses you about Kepler’s at-bats is that he seems to have an approach that at times is lacking with younger players. He is hitting .254/.323/.482 with five home runs and 22 RBIs.

Kepler mentioned after Saturday’s game that the key for him is making sure the game does not speed up on him. That happened to him last weekend at Yankee Stadium. “I had to tell myself, ‘Just focus on the game itself,’” he said.

Kepler also noticed the game speeding up on him on Friday in the Twins’ 3-2, 10-inning loss to the Rangers. He went 1-for-3 in the loss with a strikeout.

“Yesterday, I felt like I was rushing a little bit, so I just tried to slow things down today,” he said. “Like I always say, ‘Keep it simple.’ Yesterday, I was trying to do too much with some pitches. It just turned out in my favor (today).”

The lefthanded-hitting Kepler also is looking more comfortable against lefthanded pitching. His first home run Saturday came against a lefty in Ramos.

“I’m starting to gain my confidence,” Kepler said. “Probably the most I have to work on is laying off the sliders away. That’s tough. But it’s what all lefties are going to have to face against lefties. With more reps, I think I’m going to get better at that.”

  • Mike Link

    Kepler, Sano, Buxton give us a reason to watch this season unfold. Yes Buxton. For those who criticize – back off and let this talent develop; he will be a star.

  • AVguy

    Let’s hope today is a turning point for the Twins and they play more to their potential.


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