Sano, Buxton also impress during 17-5 win over Rangers
By Do-Hyoung Park
MINNEAPOLIS -- Twins right fielder Max Kepler doesn't really think he did anything differently at the plate on Saturday afternoon, when he smacked two homers and drove in a career-high seven as part of a 17-5 pasting of the Rangers.
He also can't really pinpoint how he can have more of these games moving forward.
"Stuff went my way," Kepler said. "That's how baseball is."
It's been undeniable that the 23-year-old has certainly made a big progression at the plate over the last month that culminated in Saturday's explosion. He set the Twins' rookie record for single-game RBIs, with his seven topping the previous mark of six set by Oswaldo Arcia, Tony Oliva and Miguel Sano.
He hit into an RBI fielder's choice in the first before adding a pair of three-run homers -- one in the second off left-hander Cesar Ramos, and another in the fifth off right-hander Luke Jackson. The second-inning shot was his first career homer off a lefty after entering the game with a career .190 average against southpaws.
The 2-for-5 performance raised Kepler's season average to .254, and he has now hit safely in six straight games and 15 of his last 17.
"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.
"He's got a lot of skill, and we're just going to find ways to continue to polish it up a little bit."
Kepler's performance on Saturday flashed his sky-high potential that the Twins are hoping he can tap into on a more consistent basis, but it wasn't just him that put on a show Saturday, as two of the Twins' other highly touted young bats -- Sano and Byron Buxton -- also had strong days at the plate.
After flying out and striking out in his first two at-bats, Sano finally got ahold of a slider and deposited it in the upper deck for his 12th homer of the season, his first hit since returning from a stint on the disabled list due to a strained left hamstring. He later added a bases-loaded walk to complete a three-RBI afternoon.
"Sometimes you can tell when he's in home run mode," Molitor said. "He was a little overaggressive. We've talked about letting the game come to you, especially when you're a power guy. But he expanded the zone and had a lot of swings and misses early, but he finally got a slider that he could handle there."
After continuing to struggle at the plate since his callup on May 31, Buxton has strung together a four-game hitting streak and went 2-for-5 with an RBI triple on Saturday to push his average above .200 for the first time since June 17.
After getting off to a slow start to the season that quickly pushed the Twins out of contention, Molitor has weathered the struggles of his young players and continued to give them regular playing time in the hopes that they would find their groove and will eventually realize their potential.
On Saturday, the trio showed the Twins what they hope is a sign of things to come.
"They're really a big part of our team," shortstop and All-Star hopeful Eduardo Nunez said. "These young guys have a lot of ability. They're really fast, and we hope they can do that all the way through the year. It was a great game for them."
Do-Hyoung Park is a reporter for MLB.com based in Minneapolis. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.