Willingham will have knee surgery, miss 4-6 weeks

  • Article by: LA VELLE E.NEAL III , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 3, 2013 - 12:48 AM

Twins outfielder Josh Willingham has a torn meniscus as well as a bone bruise. He was willing to rest the knee and try to play until he could have offseason surgery, but the bone bruise wasn’t going away any time soon.

So Willingham decided to have surgery on Wednesday to repair the medial meniscus tear in his left knee and will be out four to six weeks.

“We met with the doctor and read the MRI,’’ Willingham said. “There’s a bone bruise, which would take a minimum of two weeks, probably like three or four, to heal. And the cartilage tear that was there before had a little bit of change and maybe had gotten a little bigger. We thought the procedure, which would take four, maybe six weeks to return from, would kill two birds with one stone.’’

Dr. John Steubs, the team’s director of medical services, will perform the surgery.

The day began with Willingham landing on the 15-day disabled list, because the Twins hoped rest and rehab would be the solution. But Willingham and Steubs spoke during the game and decided on surgery.

In 70 games, Willingham is batting .224 with 10 home runs and 37 RBI, a huge letdown from last season, when he went .260-35-110 and was a force in the middle of the order.

Any chance of Willingham being a trade chip before the July 31 trade deadline has been destroyed as well.

Bullpen shuffle

Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson have decided to try out righthander Casey Fien and lefthander Caleb Thielbar in the late-game situations normally reserved for righthander Jared Burton and lefthander Brian Duensing.

Burton has given up earned runs in five of his past 10 outings, posting a 11.00 ERA during that time, and Duensing has given up five earned runs over his past seven appearances, including three on Monday.

“We’ve talked to a couple guys and told them we are going to try to ease up on their minds and give them a mental break,” Gardenhire said.

Fien posted a 0.87 ERA in June, wiggling out of tight spots along the way. The more interesting case will be Thielbar, the former St. Paul Saint and South Dakota State Jackrabbit from Randolph, Minn. Thielbar has begun his major league career with 14 scoreless appearances — but they all have come with the Twins trailing.

“Guys like Fien and T-Bar give us some options in some of those later innings, and we’ll see if we can get a couple guys straightened out,” Gardenhire said.

Two international players signed

The Twins went after a couple of power bats on the first day of the international signing period on Tuesday, agreeing to terms with outfielder Lewin Diaz for a signing bonus of $1.4 million and third baseman Roni Tapia for $555,000. Both are from the Dominican Republic.

Diaz, 16, is listed at 6-4 and 210 pounds. His background reads like a David Ortiz projection: great bat speed, power to all fields, below-average runner with limited range in the outfield. That’s why some believe he will move to first base. Baseball America ranked Diaz as the 15th-best international prospect.

Tapia, 16, is listed at 6-3, 170. He projects to have good power while being average defensively.

Hicks returns

The Twins wanted outfielder Aaron Hicks to heat up at the plate before ending his rehabilitation stint at Class AAA Rochester. That plan was torn up when Willingham landed on the DL. Hicks returned to the club on Tuesday after batting .190 in six games with the Red Wings.

“I feel good,” Hicks said. “The most important thing was getting the leg healthy.”

Hicks doubled to right in the third inning Tuesday in his first at-bat — although Ichiro Suzuki appeared to have a play on the ball before pulling up and playing it off the wall.

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