COMMENTARY | Hey, Ron Gardenhire, how do you like that defense?
Six days after Gardenhire berated center fielder Aaron Hicks for his nonchalant showboating on a catch against the Boston Red Sox, Hicks showed he learned his lesson with a spectacular game-saving catch against the Chicago White Sox on Monday, May 13. Hicks raced back to the center field fence and timed his leap perfectly to take a potential game-tying home run away from Adam Dunn in the top of the sixth inning.
If the catch didn't get Hicks out of Gardenhire's doghouse, he surely bashed his way out of it with his bat in the bottom of the inning when he launched his second home run of the game on the first pitch he saw. Not only was it the first multi-homer game in Hicks' career, but it was also the first time the rookie had multiple hits in a game.
Hitting two home runs in a game and robbing an opposing player of another in the same game is a rare feat. In fact, I've been watching Twins games for nearly 30 years and the only other time I recall a player having such a game was when Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett had six hits, including two home runs, and robbed fellow Hall of Famer Robin Yount of a potential grand slam.
The game capped off quite a week for Hicks, who not only had the berating from Gardenhire, but he also missed the previous two games with a hyperextended elbow. There's no truth to the rumors that Gardenhire was seen trying to hyperextend the elbow of the slumping Josh Willingham after the game.
The timing of this performance couldn't be much better for Hicks. His performance prior to this game has been, to put it bluntly, abysmal. He came into the game batting .137/.239/.216 with 35 strikeouts in 117 plate appearances.
Aaron Hicks' Patient Approach Doesn't Impress Minnesota Twins
Hicks has shown the ability to draw walks with 15, which is third on the team. However, even that doesn't appear to be appreciated by the Twins. Gardenhire has been effusive of his praise of rookie Oswaldo Arcia's aggressive approach at the plate and the fact he is ready to swing at the first pitch. I can't say for sure, but it does seem like this is Gardenhire's way of putting down the patient approaches of Hicks and Chris Parmelee, who has also been struggling and has been losing out on playing time to Arcia.
About the only reason Hicks was still in the major leagues was the injury to backup center fielder Darin Mastroianni. However, Mastroianni's injured foot was taken out of the walking boot the other day and he appears to be close to a rehab assignment. This could last no more than 30 days, but it is doubtful the Twins would wait that long to activate him since Hicks is the only true center fielder currently on the 25-man roster.
Once Mastroianni is healthy, the Twins will have an interesting decision to make but until then, Hicks will need to show that this was not just a one-game performance. Hopefully, he'll be able to relax and continue to use his considerable skills, which made him the Twins' first-round draft pick in 2008.
Expectations should be tempered for Hicks, who never put up big numbers in the minor leagues and had never played above Class AA before this April. Hicks wasn't even in the conversation for the Twins' starting center fielder job this year until the team surprisingly traded both Denard Span and Ben Revere for desperately needed young pitching.
Center field was considered an area of concern for the Twins until Hicks had a great spring training to win his way to the big leagues. Of course, playing well in March isn't the same as playing well in April and throughout the rest of the season, as Hicks is finding out now.
Aaron Hicks Could Be Pushed Out of Center Field by Byron Buxton
How Hicks plays over the next few weeks could have a big impact for years to come. It probably won't be too much longer until stud center field prospect Byron Buxton forces his way to the major leagues. Buxton was the Twins' first-round draft pick in 2012 and is already tearing up low Class A in the first six weeks of his first full season in the minor leagues.
So, it appears that Hicks might be just keeping center field warm until Buxton arrives, if Hicks manages to stay in the major leagues. However, the Twins could find room for both if they trade Willingham and Justin Morneau before their contracts expire, or just don't sign them after their contracts are up. Morneau is a free agent after 2013 and Willingham could be gone after 2014.
With those two gone, Parmelee could move to first base with Arcia taking over right field full time. That would leave left field and center field available for Hicks and Buxton to play together.
So, not only does Hicks need to show he's the right guy for right now, but he also needs to show he's a big part of the Twins' future.
Darin McGilvra has been a professional sportswriter since 1997 and has been a Twins follower since Kirby Puckett's breakout season of 1986. He has been published in The Californian, a newspaper covering Riverside County, and currently writes for Demand Media Studios.
Follow Darin on Twitter at @SoCalTwinsfan.
- Sports & Recreation
- Aaron Hicks
- Ron Gardenhire