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How big an impact will Miguel Sano make on Twins? ‘It’s really up to him’

Minnesota Twins third baseman Miguel Sano (22) fields a ground ball during the eighth inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Target Field. Sano's return to the regular roster could be a step toward the Twins making up for the first half of the season. Harrison Barden / USA Today Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — Once upon a time, Miguel Sano was a top prospect in the Twins farm system, a third baseman with power who promised to be the answer to a long unanswered question in Minnesota.

His uppercut swing made him as entertaining a player as there was in baseball when he got hold of a hanging breaking ball over the plate. He didn’t just make pitchers pay; he often embarrassed them with shots into the Target Field upper decks.

But somewhere along the way, Sano lost himself. Perhaps succumbing to lofty expectations that have followed him since he was a teenager, he battled highly publicized weight issues, started to strike out at an alarming rate and was actually sent down to the minor leagues last season to get in shape and reset his head.

Those struggles make returning to the big leagues that much sweeter.

Sano, 26, was called up ahead of Wednesday’s 8-7 win over the Los Angeles Angels after missing 41 games with a right heel injury, a deep cut near his Achilles tendon that wouldn’t heal. He replaced Mitch Garver, placed on the 10-day injured list as he recovers from a high ankle sprain, on the 25-man roster.

“I’m so excited,” Sano said Wednesday. “It’s a big moment for me and my family to be back with the team.”

It’s unclear how exactly the Twins plan to use Sano moving forward. Three players have started games at third base led by Marwin Gonzalez’s 30. Manager Rocco Baldelli said Sano will play a lot on the upcoming West Coast road trip through Seattle and Anaheim.

In a short season last year, Sano played 11 games at first base, which has mostly been manned by C.J. Cron this season.

“He will be full go,” Baldelli said of Sano. “That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to play every single day, because we’re not going to run any of our guys into the ground. Like I said, though, he’s going to be out there a lot, he’s going to get a ton of at-bats, he’s going to get days off his feet like everybody else is.

“We will get into a nice rotation like we do have with all of our guys.”

The fact that Sano is even a part of that equation could be a major boost for the Twins, who as of Thursday afternoon ranked third in the major leagues with 76 home runs. Nelson Cruz, with seven home runs and 22 RBIs, has eased into the role of the lineup’s big basher but left fielder Eddie Rosario leads the team with 13 homers and 34 RBIs, and is one of six Twins with at least seven homers.

So, Sano won’t have as much pressure to hit for power, even if he bats in the heart of the order.

“We have a better team,” Sano acknowledged. “We aren’t relying on one player. We have (Nelson) Cruz, (C.J.) Cron, (Eddie) Rosario, (Jorge) Polanco, (Max) Kepler, and Byron (Buxton). They are all hitting good.”

Now the hope is Sano can follow suit. He’s only two seasons removed from an All-Star Game appearance — he hit 27 home runs and drove in 77 runs in just 114 games — and if he can get back to that level of play, the Twins could be even scarier than they are right now. Heading into Thursday”s 9:10 p.m. start at Seattle, the Twins (27-15) led the American League Central by 4½ games over Cleveland.

“We worked really hard,” Sano said of an extended spring training and stops at three Twins affiliates. “We worked with every hitting coach, and now we’re here in the big leagues. Nothing’s different. It’s the same work.”

While Sano no doubt feels he has something to prove, the biggest thing his teammates stressed to him upon arrival is just being himself.

“It’s really up to him,” Jake Odorizzi said when asked about Sano’s impact. “The guy that he’s being activated for is having a helluva season, so if he comes in and plays like he can play, he’s going to fit right in.

“I think expectations need to be tempered from everybody on the outside because I know everybody expects a lot out of him. We are fortunate as a team right now that we have a lot of guys (playing well) and we’re not relying heavily on one player. For him, it’s just about easing in and not putting to much pressure on himself early to try to do too much.”

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