Big blast helps Hicks’ confidence

Twins center fielder Aaron Hicks hits a three-run home run during the fifth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on Thursday.  

Kim Klement/Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

One good swing of the bat doesn’t necessarily snap a player out of a slump, but a big hit Thursday could help boost Aaron Hicks’ confidence early in the season.

Minnesota’s center fielder entered Thursday’s series finale against Tampa Bay batting just .175 with four RBI through 20 games. He had played in all 20 of the Twins’ games, including 19 starts, but had struggled to find his swing.

Despite all of that, Hicks came through in a big way with one swing. His three-run home run was part of a four-run fifth inning as the Twins topped the Rays 9-7 to improve to 11-10 on the season.

"It felt really good, especially since it was something the team needed and it put us up some runs that we definitely needed toward the end," Hicks said.

Earlier this week, Minnesota acquired outfielder Sam Fuld off waivers from Oakland, perhaps hoping to light a fire under the struggling Hicks. The Twins lacked a legitimate backup center fielder prior to claiming Fuld, meaning Hicks was almost always guaranteed to be in the lineup.

Whether or not the Fuld signing was intended to send a message to Hicks, Minnesota’s young center fielder responded Thursday in a big way.

"He was excited," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "He came out early the first day in here and did a lot of work. He’s been working in the cages. It’s good to see."

Hicks began the 2013 season as the Twins’ starting center fielder despite never having played at Triple-A. He had a hard time adjusting to major-league pitching and bounced between the minors and majors throughout the year. Hicks played in 81 games with Minnesota last season, but once again began the year on the 25-man roster.

Coming into Thursday’s game, Hicks had drawn as many walks (11) as he had hits, and he’d struck out 19 times. He was also in search of his first major-league home run since July 14 of last season.

Hicks connected on a pitch from Heath Bell up and away for a three-run blast, padding Minnesota’s cushion and giving his team an 8-3 lead. As it turned out, the Twins needed all three of those runs after the Rays scored four late runs to make things interesting.

"I’ve been working hard, especially the last two days, on trying to get my swings right and make solid contact and also be able to create some more backspin," Hicks said. "I got one today."

Hicks finished the day just 1-for-3 at the plate, but he did draw two of the Twins’ eight walks in the game. Minnesota has been one of the most patient teams in baseball this season, and that again proved to be the case in Thursday’s win.

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The more base runners the Twins have, the more chances for Hicks and others to drive in runs.

"It’s important to be patient in this game," Hicks said. "When you’re patient, guys get better chances and get better pitches to hit. Guys hit balls in the gaps and we definitely started scoring runs."

Thanks in part to Hicks’ three-run homer, Minnesota took two out of three from Tampa Bay in this series to move over .500 as the Twins now enter a nine-game homestand beginning Friday against Detroit. Minnesota has done so by beating some pretty good teams along the way, and that includes the Rays.

"You’ve just got to keep your nose to the grindstone," Gardenhire said. "I don’t think we’ve played too many slouches lately. I don’t think there are any slouches in this league anymore. You’ve just got to keep grinding it out. The boys are getting after it. We’re swinging the bats."

FOX Sports North’s Marney Gellner contributed to this report.

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