The addition of Paul Molitor to the Twins coaching staff has already paid some dividends, with third baseman Trevor Plouffe crediting the Hall of Famer as a big reason for his great improvement as a fielder.
“Absolutely, he has been the guy that I worked with all throughout spring. I definitely will continue to do that throughout the season,” said Plouffe, who has only two errors this season. “These day games have made it tough to get the extra work that we need because we’re not really on the field too much. But he’s a guy that I can look to. I would say he and [utility infielder Jason] Bartlett have really helped me out a lot.”
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire recently said Plouffe has improved in all aspects of his game.
“He’s swinging the bat very well, been very confident,” Gardenhire said. “He’s done a fantastic job for us … just more experience. The longer you play, you should get better at it. More experience and he’s more comfortable with himself. It’s getting there, he’s worked very hard on it.
“There’s going to be some things he can’t do and he just has to understand that and kind of compensate for those things. Plouffe has worked really hard on all parts of his game and he’s a better player for it.”
Following the Twins’ 7-0 victory over the Blue Jays in the first game of their doubleheader Thursday, Plouffe was tied for eighth in the American League in RBI with 11, tied for seventh in runs scored with 11 and tied for 10th in walks with nine. He then drew another walk as a pinch hitter in the nightcap, one of eight in the eighth inning for the Twins in their 9-5 comeback victory.
Those 10 walks have to be the biggest offensive improvement for Plouffe. He averaged 35.5 walks per season over the past two years. If he keeps up his current pace, he will destroy that mark.
The other big change in Plouffe’s game is going from having some power — he had 24 home runs in 2012 and 14 last season, with 22 doubles — to also being able to hit for average. He is a career .243 hitter, but this season he is at .309 through 15 games. Those walks should help increase his average as opposing pitchers have to pitch to contact.
Plouffe says he is getting more confident and hoping his improvement will continue.
“I’m working hard on it. It’s still a work in progress and I’m going to continue to keep getting better,” he said. “Every year you should get a little more confident, a little more mature. You understand how the game is played at the big-league level, start to know the pitchers a little bit more. I’m definitely feeling confident.”
Plouffe said he also had an offseason program that included gaining weight.
“What didn’t I work on in the offseason? I worked on everything,” he said. “I definitely focused on putting some weight on. They wanted me to come back 10 pounds heavier, so I did that. A lot of my baseball work came in spring training. I got down there early and, like I said, worked with Molitor and Bartlett and [Twins hitting coach Tom Brunansky]. I am turning into a man, I guess. I’m married now, so it’s about time.”
Vikings at the Capitol
Lester Bagley, Vikings president of public affairs and stadium development, explained what the team is seeking in tax incentives from the Legislature in trying to lure the 2018 Super Bowl to Minneapolis.
“The governor said that [for] the 1992 Super Bowl, there was a tax exemption on Super Bowl tickets and that has not been rescinded and it is still on the books, and that is correct,” Bagley said. “That’s about 65, 70 percent of the tax exemption. We still are pursuing a tax exemption on events, Super Bowl events.”
Bagley was asked how much help the team was expecting to get from the Legislature on potential exemptions.
“I can tell you that it’s somewhere around $12 million is the estimate for the tax exemption,” Bagley said. “The ticket tax is about three-quarters of that. There’s an income tax, like a player income tax exemption, which our legislators have said they’re not going to do. But all of our legislative leaders and the governor have agreed with our CEO co-chairs, Richard Davis, Doug Baker and Marilyn Carlson Nelson, all of our state leaders have agreed to work with our co-chairs to put together a competitive bid and work with us on this tax exemption question.”
• ESPN NFL analyst Mel Kiper Jr. released his updated draft projections and had Gophers defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman going to the Patriots at 29th overall. Kiper wrote that the Patriots would be interested because their interior linemen are getting older and Hageman could bridge that gap. “Hageman is the kind of player this coaching staff could turn into something special, and working in rotation this season, he could provide some immediate impact as well,” Kiper wrote.
• Joe Vavra was the Twins’ hitting coach for eight years before being switched to third base coach last year. “You know what, that’s fun,” Vavra said of coaching third. “When you’re winning, hopefully you’re involved in the game and you have to make some split-second decisions. It’s all in getting the baserunners to do the right things on the bases and do the right things in the right spots and understand how the game flow is going and what needs to be done and in what order and how the game is proceeding along.”
• Twins superstar prospect Byron Buxton, who apparently has a bad wrist injury, won’t pick up a bat until the end of April, unless the young outfielder makes a more rapid recovery.
• Former Twins closer Joe Nathan picked up his second save of the season for the Detroit Tigers on Thursday, pitching a perfect ninth in a 7-5 victory over the Cleveland Indians. Nathan had a rough start to the season, but his ERA is down to 7.94.
• Some clarification of Kevin Love’s contract: The Timberwolves have no option to extend Love until Jan. 25, 2015 — exactly three years after he signed his current contract — and at that time, all they can offer him is a two-year extension. The bigger advantage for the Wolves is if Love decides after next season to opt out of the final year of his contract, they can offer him more years and money than any other team in the NBA — five years instead of four and about $26.5 million more than any other club under the current collective bargaining agreement.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40, 8:40 and 9:20 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org