MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Every year he's been with the Minnesota Twins, Eduardo Escobar has been slotted for a utility reserve role in spring training until some kind of setback during the season necessitates more action for the affable infielder.
Once again, he has further entrenched himself as a vital everyday player. Facing the Chicago White Sox, well, that especially brings out his best.
Escobar went 5 for 8 with five RBIs in the doubleheader, hitting a three-run homer with two outs in the eighth inning in a 4-2 victory by the Twins in the opener before the White Sox bounced back with a 6-3 win in the second game for a split.
''He's got a better idea how to use that skill set he brings up to the plate,'' Twins manager Paul Molitor said.
After Escobar put the exclamation point on the rally in the matinee to ruin a stellar start by White Sox right-hander Reynaldo Lopez, Jose Abreu hit a two-run homer in the first inning of the nightcap to send Zack Littell's major league debut on a short track.
Escobar did his best to bring the Twins back again, with RBI doubles in the third and the eighth innings. The White Sox bullpen held this time, though. Luis Avilan struck out Max Kepler with men on second and third in the eighth, and Joakim Soria fanned Mitch Garver. Soria had runners at the corners in the ninth, but he finished his fifth save in seven opportunities.
Traded to the Twins in 2012 for starting pitcher Francisco Liriano, Escobar is batting .325 with nine doubles, four homers and 17 RBIs in his past 23 games against the White Sox. He has 11 home runs in 2018 and an MLB-leading 23 doubles, putting him on pace for a 30-homer, 60-double season.
''I'm so happy,'' Escobar said, ''but the most important thing is to help the team win.''
Abreu, who hit an RBI double in the opener, hit a first-pitch fastball from Littell (0-1) left over the middle of the plate onto the grass berm beyond center field. With an RBI single by Kevan Smith and an RBI double by Adam Engel, the White Sox staked starter Lucas Giolito (4-6) to a 4-0 lead. Giolito took advantage of the early cushion and completed six innings, and a two-run double by Yolmer Sanchez in the fourth provided further support.
''Everything kind of came together,'' Giolito said, ''as far as the defense behind me and the offense supporting me.''
The under-25 tandem of Lopez and Giolito gave the extra-green White Sox an encouraging performance.
''I feel really good about the fact that these are two of our youngest guys,'' manager Rick Renteria said. ''They continue to evolve in different ways.''
WELCOME TO THE SHOW
Littell, added as the 26th player for the doubleheader, was acquired last July 30 from the New York Yankees in a trade for starting pitcher Jaime Garcia. The 22-year-old got only nine outs, allowing six runs on six hits and four walks. He took a lot more than that back to Triple-A.
''Obviously the results weren't great, but it was one of the most fun nights of my life,'' Littell said, later adding: ''You expect the adrenaline, but dealing with it is a whole different story.''
Twins starter Fernando Romero went six innings without a walk in the opener. Tyler Duffey (1-1) pitched two scoreless innings for the victory, and Fernando Rodney pitched a perfect ninth for his 13th save in 16 attempts and 11th in a row.
With a lift from Yoan Moncada's leadoff home run, Lopez sailed through seven scoreless innings with only one hit allowed. He turned a 2-0 lead over to Nate Jones (2-2), who got two easy outs before Brian Dozier reached on an infield single and Eddie Rosario walked. Miguel Sano's single finally put the Twins on the scoreboard before Escobar's 414-foot drive to straightaway center on a 1-2 pitch.
''Twins ball has always got something in the backpack,'' Romero said. ''We never give it up.''
Lopez allowed four walks but only one hit, a fourth-inning double by Escobar. He left after 106 pitches, after surrendering seven hits and eight runs in his last turn at Cleveland in just 2 2/3 innings.
''It was a really nice outing. Win or lose, that's something that I can't control,'' Lopez said through a translator.
GETTING CAUGHT UP
The first game was a makeup from April 15, when a weekend snowstorm finished smothering the Twin Cities and forced a third straight postponement. The others were rescheduled for Aug. 20 - a single game on what was originally a day off for the teams - and Sept. 28 as a day-night, dual-admission doubleheader. This one was a traditional twin bill, with only one ticket required and just a half-hour between games.
White Sox: LHP Carlos Rodon, who is still working his way back from offseason shoulder surgery, is expected to be reinstated from the DL this week to make his first start of the season. Because Lopez and Gioloto both pitched in the doubleheader, there'll be an opening in the rotation this weekend at Boston.
Twins: 1B Logan Morrison was unavailable for both games because of back stiffness. ''We're just going to monitor it and see what it turns into,'' Molitor said.
White Sox: LHP Hector Santiago (1-2, 5.10 ERA) pitches on Wednesday night against his former team. He made 25 starts for the Twins over the 2016 and 2017 seasons and posted a cumulative 5.61 ERA. He allowed eight runs on six hits and six walks in 3 1/3 innings against them in a turn on May 5.
Twins: RHP Jake Odorizzi (3-2, 4.14 ERA) takes the mound for the third game of the series. He's coming off his worst start with his new team, with eight runs allowed on seven hits and two walks in 3 2/3 innings last week against Cleveland.
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