MINNEAPOLIS — Saturday was a momentous occasion for Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe. He made his return from the disabled list and played his first game with Minnesota since May 21.
It also happened to be Plouffe’s 27th birthday, and he celebrated in a big way.
Plouffe went 3-for-3 with a homer and drove in a pair of runs as he helped Minnesota earn a 6-3 win over the visiting Tigers on his birthday. After Saturday’s performance, Plouffe is now 5-for-9 with three homers, three RBI and four runs scored on his birthday as a major leaguer.
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“It’s just good to be back,” Plouffe said. “I’ve been itching to come back and be back with the boys, especially this series against the Tigers. It’s a big series for us whenever we play them.”
Plouffe missed time while on the 7-day concussion disabled list in mid-May. On the same day he was activated from that, he landed on the 15-day DL when he tweaked his calf during pregame warmups. That meant he had to make a rehab assignment at Triple-A Rochester, where he played four games with the Red Wings to make sure his bat was ready to return.
It was clear Plouffe was champing at the bit to get back to the lineup.
“He stepped right back in there,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. “He was getting after it pretty good, running around good and his swing looked good.”
Plouffe drew a walk in his first at-bat since returning from the DL but was stranded at second in the second inning. Two innings later, Plouffe set off the birthday fireworks when he connected on an 0-1 pitch from Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez and sent it 415 feet to the left field seats.
It was Plouffe’s fifth home run of the year, but just his second multi-run homer this season. It tied the game at 2-all in the fourth after Minnesota starter Samuel Deduno gave up a pair of runs in the top half of the inning.
“I wanted to contribute any way I could,” Plouffe said. “To be able to come up offensively was good for us.”
Later in the game, Plouffe led off the sixth with a double to left field. He eventually came around to score on a single by Brian Dozier to give the Twins their first lead of the game, a 3-2 edge. Minnesota scored three runs in the sixth inning to pull away from the Tigers, thanks in part to Plouffe’s double.
In the seventh, Plouffe nearly had his second home run of the night but the ball hit high off the wall in left field. It would have made it two consecutive years that the Twins third baseman hit a pair of homers on his birthday — he did so last year against Milwaukee.
Instead, it was an RBI single that scored Oswaldo Arcia, but Plouffe was thrown out at second trying to stretch it to a double.
“I was just trying to get to second as fast as I could,” Plouffe said. “One thing I didn’t come back with was more speed. I realized that pretty quick.”
Plouffe also had a handful of nice plays at third base in Saturday’s win. His defense has continued to be a work in progress since he converted full-time to third base, but he handled everything that Detroit hit his way Saturday.
The Tigers tested him early on a grounder by Miguel Cabrera in the first inning. Victor Martinez hit one at him in the second. Plouffe made both plays to back Deduno in the early going.
With runners on first and second and one out in the eighth, Plouffe helped turn a crucial double play to end the inning and keep the score at 6-3. He made one more play on a ground ball to third in the scoreless ninth inning as closer Glen Perkins earned the save.
“I felt good. I had some good defensive work down there in Rochester with (manager Gene Glynn),” Plouffe said. “We worked on some stuff. It’s just good to be back.”
The Twins have seen what Plouffe is capable of offensively. Last year, he was the hottest hitter in baseball for a few weeks when he hit 10 home runs in 14 games. But Plouffe cooled off after that and was up and down the rest of the season.
Including Saturday’s three-hit night, Plouffe is now riding a nine-game hitting streak as he picked up right where he left off before landing on the DL.
Nights like that are what the Twins hope to see from Plouffe for the rest of the season.
“It’s a little difficult for a guy, especially like Plouffe, to all of a sudden say, ‘This is where he’s at,'” Twins general manager Terry Ryan said before the game when asked about Plouffe’s progression. “He hasn’t played enough yet. He’s an important piece to this lineup. He can stretch our lineup out. We’re trying to figure out exactly what we’ve got defensively over there still. We know he can hit the ball a long way. … There’s a lot of things that need to be answered with his game.”