Souhan: Sudden slugger Plouffe rewards Twins' patience

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 15, 2012 - 11:51 AM

After looking like a lost cause, he's found his role and focus.

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Twins third base coach Steve Liddle congratulated Trevor Plouffe on his solo homer in the second inning. The now-regular third baseman has eight homers in his past 13 games.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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For two weeks, Trevor Plouffe has been the most productive hitter in baseball. We shouldn't be surprised to be surprised.

Torii Hunter didn't know what a slider was when he was drafted.

"What's that pitch with the red dot on it?" he would ask coaches, years before he'd become an All-Star.

In the low minors, Marty Cordova wore his hair long and had the plate discipline of Cee Lo. He became rookie of the year.

Johan Santana was a struggling middle reliever before learning the changeup during a demotion to Class AAA. He became the best pitcher in baseball.

LaTroy Hawkins built perhaps the worst résumé of any longstanding pitcher in baseball history before Rick Anderson altered his delivery in 2002. He's still pitching.

Ron Gardenhire called a struggling Justin Morneau into the manager's office in June 2006, to recommend he spend more time working on hitting and less time drinking with buddies. Morneau won the MVP months later.

For better and worse, the Twins wait on talent.

Plouffe can hit a big-league fastball a long way, so they have waded through his position changes and moods.

Last year, when Plouffe got sent to the minors, he told Gardenhire he was hitting better than some teammates, even though Plouffe looked like a drunken juggler at shortstop.

Last week, when Gardenhire pulled him for a defensive replacement at third base, Plouffe and Gardenhire held a different kind of meeting. Plouffe told Gardenhire he wanted the responsibility of playing nine innings.

"I said, "I'm glad you came in here,'" Gardenhire said. "'I would love to have you out there. You keep getting it done, get more consistent with your at-bats and your defense, and I won't ever take you out. I'll just leave you out there.' So... I'm just leaving him out there."

In April, Danny Valencia was the full-time third baseman and Plouffe a part-time outfielder. Now Plouffe, the Twins' first-round pick as a high school shortstop in 2004, has become a potential long-term answer at the position that Corey Koskie must have cursed.

Entering Thursday's game, Plouffe's .950 slugging percentage was the highest in baseball in June. In his first at-bat, he lined a homer to left, giving him eight homers in his past 13 games. His 11 homers since May 16 tie him with Alfonso Soriano and Jose Bautista for most in the game. In the first 11 games of June, he has hit .386 with four doubles, seven homers, 14 RBI and 12 runs. His fielding remains a work in progress, but Gardenhire has seen his work progress.

"This game's not going to give you anything," Gardenhire said. "You have to earn it. I think he'll tell you, he didn't take his lumps unfairly. He'll tell you, he wasn't great. He threw the ball around.

"At the end of last year I thought he was going along pretty good. He came to spring training this year, accepted his role, worked hard, said, 'Play me wherever you want,' and that's the biggest part of it. He wasn't saying, 'Why aren't you playing me more?' and getting into that rut."

The newly-shorn Plouffe is no longer the goofy kid with the boy-band hair.

"It was something I wanted to get off my chest," he said. "I've been feeling confident at third base, and when Gardy felt he had to take me out for defense, I felt it came back to bite us, that we came up a little short on the bench that game.

"I felt like I let my team down. I didn't ever want that to happen again. I didn't question the move; I understand it. I played myself into that, forced him to do that. But I was hoping I could play my way out of that."

"That," Gardenhire said, "was a good conversation."

Morneau told Plouffe that thinking about the team is a good way to relieve pressure.

"Morney has really pressed that into my mind this year," Plouffe said. "It's like the old saying, 'A rising tide raises all ships.'"

Sometimes you have to wait for the ship to come in.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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