Wallner keeps rolling; homers in each game as Saints split doubleheader with Syracuse

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After a miserable start to his season, the Twins sent Matt Wallner down to the Triple-A St. Paul Saints to get himself right.

When the powerfully built 6-foot-4 Wallner is right, he’s hitting the ball out of sight. The last couple of weeks suggest that he is at least on the right track.

Wallner homered in both games of the doubleheader on Thursday at CHS Field as the Saints beat the Syracuse Mets 5-3 in Game 1 before dropping Game 2, 9-4. The Forest Lake native now has 11 home runs on the season, including six in his last 10 games.

“Just trying to keep it simple; get back to what worked last year and go from there,” Wallner said.

Despite the recent power surge, Wallner said he is focused on hitting the ball up the middle. The solid contact does tell him that he’s making progress.

“Just hitting all pitches,” he said. “Obviously, there’s going to be swing and miss in there, but if I can stay on a curve ball and hit the fastball with the same swing thought, that’s when I know that I’m better.

“Otherwise, it needed to be a fastball or it needed to be a slider; just when I can cover more pitches.”

The 26-year-old Wallner was hitting .080 (2 for 25) with the Twins when he was optioned to the Saints on April 16. Asked if any particular pitch was giving him trouble, Wallner said, “Kind of everything was.”

“The first two weeks (of the season), I was just trying to find my swing and not really care about anything that happened,” Wallner added. “That turned into thinking too much, and it led to a month of bad baseball.

“But now it’s just stick to the approach and let the swing come.”

Wallner appeared in 76 games with the Twins last season, batting .249 with 14 home runs and 41 RBI. Knowing he can succeed at the major league level makes him all the more eager to get back.

“It is what it is,” Wallner said. “I want to know that I can be the best player that I can be this year when I do go back.”

Despite the recent home runs, Wallner’s batting average is still at .214. Although there is less emphasis put on batting average in today’s game, that’s not where Wallner wants to be.

“A lot of that is from the first month, when I felt like I was getting one hit a week,” he said. “Crawling out of that hole is never easy, but just trying to take it a week or two at a time. I feel the past couple weeks have been the best by far.”

The Saints fell behind 3-1 in Game 1 after starting pitcher Adam Plutko gave up a solo home run in the second inning and a two-run shot in the fourth. But St. Paul took a 5-3 lead in the bottom of the fourth on the strength of three home runs.

Wallner got things started with a homer leading off the inning. A two-run home run by Tony Kemp and a solo homer by Anthony Prato followed.

Jordan Balazovic (3-3) got the win in relief, while Josh Winder pitched the final two innings, allowing one hit, to earn the save. Four of the six outs recorded by Winder came on strikeouts.

Louie Varland started Game 2 for the Saints and gave his fans plenty to “Lou” about in the first inning when he struck out the side in the first inning, needing only 10 pitches. The second inning was a completely different story.

The Mets sent 11 batters to the plate, scoring five times. Syracuse got the first two batters on base on a walk and an infield single. One out later, Varland gave up a three-run home run to Pablo Reyes. Three more hits and a bases-loaded walk brought in the fourth and fifth runs.

Varland (2-5) pitched three-plus innings, allowing six runs on seven hits. He walked four and struck out five.


David Festa (1-2) gets the start for the Saints on Friday. The top pitching prospect in the Twins organization, according to MLB Pipeline, is looking to rebound after allowing five earned runs in four innings in his last start.

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