Twins get big production from middle of lineup, win again

Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe watches as he hits an RBI single against the White Sox in the fifth inning at Target Field. The Twins won, 5-3.  

Bruce Kluckhohn/Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — When Trevor Plouffe and Josh Willingham were teammates in Minnesota, they would jokingly tell each other before each game to hit a home run. Sometimes it worked, but more often than not it didn’t.

With the now-retired Willingham back in Minnesota for the weekend to see his old team, he had the chance to catch up with his former teammates. That includes Plouffe, whom Willingham told once again to hit a home run.

With Willingham watching from the seats at Target Field, Plouffe delivered. As he crossed home plate following his solo homer in the second inning, he pointed up to where Willingham was sitting, fulfilling his promise to hit a home run for him.

"It’s fun having him in town," Plouffe said. "He told me he wanted me to hit him one today, so that was pretty cool. It was a cool moment for us."

Plouffe’s home run was a big hit for the Twins, but it wasn’t his biggest hit of the day. That would be his RBI single in the bottom of the fifth inning against highly touted White Sox reliever Carlos Rodon. Plouffe sent a base hit to the opposite field to put Minnesota up by what proved to be the winning run in the Twins’ 5-3 victory.

The win put Minnesota back at .500 with a 12-12 record, something that seemed implausible after the Twins started the season 1-6 after a dreadful opening road trip. Thanks to some big production from the middle of the lineup Saturday — including Plouffe and right fielder Torii Hunter — Minnesota was able to get back to the .500 mark.

Though the home run was nice, Plouffe was more proud of his fifth-inning single.

"It put us ahead," Plouffe said. "I battled off a few pitches and then he kind of left a fastball there and I was able to inside-out it to right. That was fun."

Like the rest of the Twins, Plouffe struggled through the early portion of April before starting to turn things around as the calendar turned to May. Saturday’s home run was his fourth of the year and his second in the last four games.

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Hunter has had a similar upward trend during Minnesota’s last several games. After admittedly trying to do a bit too much against his former Tigers team earlier this week when Detroit was in town, Hunter has hits in all three games so far in the Twins’ series against the White Sox. That included three Saturday, but none bigger than his two-run home run in the third inning that tied the game at 3-3. With Jordan Schafer on second with two outs, Hunter connected on a 2-2 slider and sent it into the seats in left field.

"Kirby Puckett always told me, ‘Hey, that’s a gift from God. Don’t miss your blessing,’" Hunter said of breaking balls left hanging in the strike zone. "That’s something I didn’t do. He hung the slider and I was able to capitalize on it."

Hunter also had a single to left field in the bottom of the fifth and later came around to score on Kurt Suzuki’s sacrifice fly. He capped his day with his third hit, a single to center, though he was left stranded at third base to end the inning.

For two struggling players who figure to be big parts of the Twins’ lineup, Saturday was a good sign that those bats are starting to come around.

"The last couple days, we’ve been playing pretty good ball, staying short and two-strike hitting and stuff like that," Hunter said. "That’s something I’ve been working on. I’m a work in progress."

Hunter hit a total of 192 home runs in his first 11 seasons with the Twins, including six seasons with 20 or more homers. Last year with Detroit, Hunter finished with 17 home runs in 142 games at the age of 38.

Now 39, Hunter is trying to prove that he hasn’t lost much in the power department.

"I was kind of expecting it. He can still play," Plouffe said of Hunter. "He’s always said that. He’s like, ‘I don’t know why you guys think I’m going to regress so much. I’ve got plenty in the tank.’ I saw him last year do it. This is what I expected out of him. He’s a great player. He has been a great player and he’s still a great player."

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