MINNEAPOLIS — Josh Willingham spent just one season in Oakland, but he set a career high with 29 home runs last year with the Athletics.
One year later, Willingham is on pace to surpass that total with the Minnesota Twins, and he’s taking advantage of his former team in the process.
After hitting two home runs in Friday’s loss to Oakland, Willingham hit another in Saturday’s 9-3 loss at Target Field, giving him 22 on the season. His solo homer led off the eighth inning as he took A’s reliever Jordan Norberto deep to straightaway center field.
Willingham’s homer hit high off the batter’s eye and was estimated at 436 feet — the longest of the six combined home runs between Minnesota and Oakland on Saturday. Most of Willingham’s home runs this year have been pulled to left or left-center field, but he showed Saturday that he has the power to clear the fences in center field as well. According to baseball-reference.com, Saturday’s homer was the fifth to straightaway center hit by Willingham this year. The rest were hit to left or left-center.
“He’s a pull hitter. He jerks the ball. That’s the probably friendliest area for home runs,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said prior to Saturday’s game. “But he’s not afraid to go to center field. He’s not afraid to go to left-center field. He’s just a strong young man. He’s one of those pull guys. He’s kind of entertaining to watch. He’s got a chance every time he walks up there because he’s so damn strong.”
Five of Willingham’s team-high 22 homers have come against Oakland, the most against any team this season. He’s hit four against the Angels.
Willingham hit his first two home runs against Oakland in a late-May series against the A’s. He took Brian Fuentes deep for a walk-off homer back on May 29, a three-run shot that gave Minnesota a 3-2 win. The next day, he homered off Tyson Ross in the bottom of the fifth inning. His two-run blast put the Twins up 4-0.
According to the Twins, Willingham entered Saturday’s game with the most home runs so far in July, tied with Colorado’s Tyler Colvin. Willingham added to that by beating up on his former team once again. He’ll get one more chance at his old squad Sunday against right-hander Jarrod Parker, and again in August when the Twins travel to Oakland for a three-game series. By then, Willingham could well have surpassed his home run total from a year ago.
Capps makes first appearance since DL stint: Twins closer Matt Capps was reinstated from the 15-day disabled list on Thursday, but he didn’t see his first action until Saturday. Capps pitched a perfect eighth inning Saturday against Oakland, striking out Brandon Inge in the process.
Capps was sidelined with inflammation in his right shoulder and made two one-inning appearances with Class-A Fort Myers during a rehab assignment. He said after Saturday’s game that his shoulder felt fine after throwing 11 pitches.
“I felt pretty good. A little bit of jitters that first time out there, but I felt good,” said Capps, whose last outing with the Twins prior to Saturday came on June 23 in Cincinnati. “It was nice to get that first one under the belt. The breaking ball and off-speed stuff felt good, and I was down with the fastball. That’s kind of what I want. All in all, for the first time back out there in three weeks, I’m pretty happy with it.”
Now the question is when Capps will be inserted back into the closer’s role. He entered in a low-pressure situation Saturday as the Twins trailed 8-2. He’s hoping he can be back in the ninth-inning role soon.
“Obviously, the competitive side in me wants to get right back onto the saddle,” Capps said. “. . . (Pitching coach Rick Anderson) and Gardy kind of said they were going to ease me back into it. I don’t know if there will be another situation like this before they really throw me into the ninth inning or what the deal will be. Hopefully we get out there tomorrow in a win.”