MINNEAPOLIS — It wound up getting lost in the shuffle of the crazy ending to Minnesota’s 4-3 win Tuesday, but Aaron Hicks’ home run-robbing catch in center field wound up being even bigger than it seemed at the time.
The Texas Rangers had runners on second and third and one out in the top of the second inning when designated hitter Donnie Murphy sent a deep drive to straightaway center field. Hicks ran back and tracked the ball all the way to the wall, leaping up to make a highlight-reel catch and preserve two runs.
That grab by Hicks proved to be one of the biggest — and most talked-about — plays of the game.
"It was a fun play to make for my team. It’s also good to know at the end of the day that it meant something for our game," Hicks said Wednesday before it was announced he was scratched from the lineup with a stiff lower back. "We ended up winning by one run. That could make or break us winning the game."
Hicks robbed two home runs last year in his first season with the Twins — snubbing Adam Dunn and Carlos Gomez — and Wednesday’s grab over the fence was his first catch of the 2014 season that prevented a home run. Hicks said he never robbed a homer in the minor leagues, meaning his career total for catches of that magnitude now stands at three.
"Guys don’t hit balls that high in the minors," Hicks said. "When they hit them out, it’s normally line drives to left field or right field. Nobody really drives the ball that high into center field."
The Twins announced Hicks’ back injury prior to Tuesday’s game and said that he’ll be re-evaluated by team doctors later Tuesday. It’s uncertain as to whether his catch at the wall contributed to the tightness in his lower back. Earlier this year, he sustained a concussion when he crashed into the same center-field fence at Target Field. Hicks was replaced in Minnesota’s lineup Tuesday by Danny Santana, primarily an infielder who has been forced to play the outfield with the Twins’ options limited.
Tuesday was just Hicks’ second game since announcing that he was no longer a switch hitter and will now hit only from the right side of the plate. He had a pair of hits in Monday’s loss to the Rangers but was 0-for-2 with a strikeout on Tuesday before he was lifted for a pinch hitter in the eighth inning.
In both games, Hicks faced a right-handed pitcher as a right-handed batter. That matchup is the biggest adjustment Hicks will have to make as a full-time right-hander, and he’s already noticed that opposing pitchers are trying to expose his inexperience from that side of the plate.
"They’re working me outside with breaking balls, and they’re actually coming in on me with fastballs," Hicks said. "They’re definitely trying to see where my timing’s at and trying to see if I can attack the inside fastball like I can when I was a lefty. I think what’s most important for me is to be able to lay off that breaking ball away . . . and be able to have success with laying off that pitch and getting pitches to hit."
Even though Hicks went hitless Tuesday, manager Ron Gardenhire can sense a weight lifted off of Hicks’ shoulders since he approached Gardenhire about ditching his left-handed swing.
"I see him walking around here. He’s actually kidding around, joking around a little bit more than he’s usually been doing," Gardenhire said. "Whether that’s just taking that load from swinging left-handed off his shoulders and just hitting right-handed only, I don’t know. But he’s definitely a little bit more relaxed."