Port Charlotte, Fla. – The best home-run hitter on the Twins right now, that middle infielder with the power stroke, connected again Friday.
Oh yeah, and Brian Dozier did, too.
Shortstop Jorge Polanco lined a fastball from Tampa Bay righthander Erasmo Ramirez onto the right-field party deck in the second inning to give the Twins an early lead, and Dozier greeted reliever Diego Moreno by crushing a high fastball onto the left-field berm for three runs in the third, all the runs Minnesota would need to beat the Rays 4-2 at Charlotte Sports Park.
It was the third homer in March for Polanco, who has only four regular-season homers in his major league career, and it tied him with ByungHo Park for the most on the Twins this spring. “I don’t know why. I’m getting my pitches, and I’m making good contact,” said Polanco, who sprinted almost until he reached second base, unaware that a home-run trot was in order. “To be honest, I knew I hit it good, but I ran hard because I didn’t think it was high enough.”
“That was nice — two strikes, just a short swing and the ball jumped,” manager Paul Molitor said of his shortstop, whose 12 RBI also leads the team. “And Dozier took it personal.”
Maybe Polanco is the home-run hitter in the Twins’ double-play combo now, right?
“I don’t think so,” Polanco protested. “Not too many can hit it like Dozier.”
Phil Hughes’ fastball reached 90 miles per hour once on Friday, and mostly settled at 88-89 mph. But that’s no concern when Hughes pitches like he did against the Rays: five nearly spotless innings, allowing only two hits and a walk and never allowing more than one runner to reach base in an inning.
“That’s something I’m not overly concerned with right now. It’s just more making sure I’m throwing all my pitches and locating,” said Hughes, who struck out four and needed only 57 pitches. “The velocity is something I’ll look at in the last one before we break.”
Hughes used his split-finger changeup more than he has all spring, and kept the Rays off balance all day. He used it to set up Kevin Kiermaier for a two-strike fastball, ending an inning with a runner on third base, and on Curt Casali to induce an inning-ending double play.
And against Evan Longoria, whom he’s faced three dozen times in his career, he used everything. “First-pitch fastball for a ball, then I followed up with cutter, changeup, curveball,” Hughes said of his fourth-inning strikeout. “Trying to stay one step ahead of these guys. They know me pretty well. Guys that have a lot of experience against you, they kind of know what you’re going to do, so you have to mix it up.”
Trevor May will have his right elbow examined by Dr. Keith Meister in Arlington, Texas, on Tuesday. The righthander is hoping to hear something other than “season-ending ligament replacement surgery,” which Twins orthopedists recommended last week.
But the chances of the second opinion differing greatly from the first are “very slim,” Molitor said.
While Ervin Santana pitches for the Dominican Republic against Team USA on Saturday, Ryan Vogelsong will take another step — against the Red Sox — in his quest to capture a spot alongside him in the Twins’ rotation.