It's easy to say that Alex Kirilloff's eighth-inning home run didn't mean much, that tacking three more runs on a six-run lead was superfluous. But when you're worried about keeping your job?
Oh, it matters.
"I think AK is establishing himself very, very well," said Rocco Baldelli, who sometime this week will help decide who forfeits their roster spot to Miguel Sano. Kirilloff was promoted to the major leagues when Sano went on the injured list 10 days ago, and going hitless in his first 12 at-bats after the call-up made the move appear temporary.
Things have changed, as Baldelli's hint indicates. Since finally collecting his first hit last Monday, the 23-year-old rookie has a hit in six straight games — and a home run, four in all, in all three games of this series.
"Yeah, he's been swinging it good. He was swinging it good when he didn't have any hits. He was doing just fine," Baldelli said. "We thought he could hit major league pitching. He's showing us what he can do. It's fun to watch good hitters, I'll tell you that."
But the manager won't tell anyone how the roster and the lineup will change upon Sano's return, "sometime in the middle of this week." The burly first baseman is batting only .111, so the Twins felt a break to allow his sore hamstring to heal wouldn't be a bad thing.
Now he's back — with the Class AAA season opening Tuesday, Sano will be at Target Field on Monday to continue workouts — and a decision is forthcoming.
Sano figures to reclaim regular playing time, so a simple platoon with the lefthanded Kirilloff, who has played first base all weekend, is unlikely. The rookie can return to left field, though that raises a daily question about where Luis Arraez plays, particularly when Baldelli wants both in the lineup against righthanded pitching. Perhaps Arraez can assume the different-position-every-day scenario that had been discussed in spring training, though it might weaken the defense.
"We're going to find a way to get Miguel his at-bats, and we're going to get Alex his at-bats, too," Baldelli said.
Then there's the roster, with no obvious demotion coming if Kirilloff stays. Kyle Garlick's spot as an extra outfielder might be in jeopardy, or perhaps Jake Cave's, though that's less likely given his ability to play center field. Willians Astudillo's versatility and occasional power has proven valuable, making him unlikely to go, too.
"Guys' roles will change based on how everyone is playing, who we're playing and how it matches up," Baldelli said. "But we'll find a way to make it work."
Try that, Simba
After the scoreboard showed fans lifting their children into the air like Simba from the movie "The Lion King" between innings Sunday, the so-called "Simba Cam" turned on the Twins' dugout — where Nelson Cruz was hoisting teammates the same way, first Andrelton Simmons, then Willians Astudillo.
"Did Nelson pick a grown man up and hold him up like [it was] absolutely nothing?" Baldelli asked rhetorically. "Is that kind of the way it worked? I'm not surprised."
It was an eventful day for Astudillo, even though he didn't play. Baldelli asked him to take the lineup card to the umpires just before the game, mostly, the manager said, "because he was standing in front of me."
Astudillo threatened to "have a few choice words for the umpires, too, but we talked him down from that."