Through June 11 last season Twins left fielder Josh Willingham was hitting .294 (58-for-194) with 18 doubles, a triple, 11 home runs, 42 RBI and an on-base percentage of .414 in 56 games.
This year Willingham’s numbers have dipped some but he is still producing good power numbers. Through Tuesday night and 56 games played this year, Willingham is hitting .216 (43-for-199) with 11 doubles, 11 home runs, 31 RBI and on-base percentage of .359.
Willingham, who played his 1,000th career major league game Tuesday night, said he feels fine at the plate, and is just happy the team is playing better than it did in 2012.
“It’s obviously not what I did last year at this time but hopefully it will come around,” Willingham said. “It’s been a lot better for us team-wise so that’s been good.”
Willingham said that he wishes he had the answer for why his average has fallen.
“I feel like a lot of the balls I hit do go in the air and when I pull the ball, and I hit it good on the barrel, then I feel like I can hit it out,” he said. “So I think that’s primarily my answer, but I think left field at Target Field is where you can hit a home run.
“It’s a little more difficult to hit one to right field, so most of the home runs I hit are to left field and that’s to my advantage.”
Willingham added that some pitchers have been throwing him differently after the success he had last season, when he finished with 35 homers and 110 RBI.
“I’d say a little different maybe, maybe a few more offspeed pitches in fastball counts,” he said. “And I’d say it’s a combination of them making better pitches and me missing a few pitches. So I think it’s a combination of both. But I’ve seen a few more breaking balls and changeups in fastball counts.”
As Willingham mentioned, the Twins have played better this year than last, when they lost 96 games in his first year of a three-year, $21 million contract. “Anytime you lose almost 100 games [like last year] it’s tough,” he said. “This year we’ve done a lot better as a team and it obviously makes it a lot more fun when you win, so that’s the goal.
“Hopefully we can continue to play well. We’ve sort of found our stride the last couple of weeks and need to keep going.”
Having previously played with the Marlins, Nationals and Athletics, Willingham said Target Field has been his favorite home ballpark. He has had to adjust to some of the ballpark’s quirks, including his early difficulty in seeing the ball off the bat in day games.
“I say sometimes it makes a little difficult to see the ball off of the bat, but it’s not really,” he said. “Sometimes when it’s really bright in the daytime and everyone has got on white, it makes it a little tougher.
“Obviously I love Target Field. It’s a great ballpark to play in, very pretty ballpark.”
U hoops graduates
Gophers associate athletic director Marc Ryan has done some research and now that Willie Burton has graduated, every member of the Gophers’ 1989-90 Elite Eight team except one has graduated from the university, either on time or coming back to complete their work.
The only member of that team that hasn’t got a degree from Minnesota is Junior Graves, who played in only two Big Ten games and transferred, eventually landing at Texas Christian.
• Looking at his final two seasons at Northern Illinois and his first two with the Gophers, the football teams coached by Jerry Kill the past four seasons have an average of 955 out of a possible 1,000 in the Academic Progress Rate measurement. Both schools also had an average GPA of better than 3.0. … Meanwhile, the Gophers men’s basketball team, while not doing well in the APR over the past four-year period, did for the first time in some 10 years post a 3.0 GPA last semester.
• Sports Illustrated on its website named the Seattle Seahawks trading for Percy Harvin from the Vikings the best “win now” move of the offseason, writing, “Did you see any playmakers available at [the 25th pick overall] who would give the Seahawks what they are expecting of Harvin this season?”
• Jordan Hinojosa, a defensive tackle from Miami who went to Coffeyville (Kan.) Junior College last season because he didn’t qualify academically, is in school and is expected to battle for a starting defensive line position.
• Gophers baseball coach John Anderson wasn’t surprised that Chris Anderson, the Centennial High School pitcher who pitched for Jacksonville University, got drafted in the first round by the Dodgers. The Gophers were interested in Chris Anderson but weren’t ready to offer Anderson a full baseball scholarship and Jacksonville was ready at the time. … The Dodgers’ first offer to Gophers pitcher Tom Windle, who was drafted in the second round, was $980,000. … Gophers pitcher Ben Meyer and second baseman Connor Schaefbauer will play in the Cape Cod league this summer.
• Joe Benson, who was once considered one of the best prospects in the Twins farm system but was recently claimed on waivers by Texas, was batting .364 for Class AA Frisco with two triples and four home runs in the first eight games he has played in.
• Alex Illikainen, an outstanding basketball player from Grand Rapids who is being recruited by the Gophers and Kansas among others, recently played in the Top “Cream of the Crop” games to conclude the Pangos All-America Invitational Camp in Long Beach, Calif. Illikainen averaged 17 points in the tournament and was second overall in rebounding. Illikainen played alongside Cooper standout Rashad Vaughn in the tournament.
• ESPN, in reporting on NBA coaches who have won five or more championships, lists them as follows: Phil Jackson 11, Red Auerbach 9 and John Kundla and Pat Riley 5. However, Kundla actually won six titles with the Minneapolis Lakers but didn’t get credit for one. Before the leagues merged in 1949, the coach of the Basketball Association of America, one Eddie Gottlieb, was given credit for a title the same year that Kundla won a title in the NBA. But the BAA takes credit for that title when most of the league switched to what was called the NBA.
• Former Timberwolves player Christian Laettner will conduct a basketball clinic for the Oak Hills Christian Athletic Department in Bemidji from Monday to Thursday.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. email@example.com