Hughes improves chances with fourth spring homer

  • Updated: March 14, 2011 - 11:11 PM
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Twins infield prospect Luke Hughes (right)

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune file

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FORT MYERS, FLA. - Luke Hughes seemed to be a long shot to make the Twins roster coming into spring training, but there has been too much thump in the 26-year-old Australian's bat for manager Ron Gardenhire to ignore.

On Monday, Hughes cranked out a two-run homer in the sixth inning of the Twins' 9-0 victory over Florida at Hammond Stadium to continue his impressive camp. Hughes is batting .361 with four homers and 13 RBI in 13 games.

Gardenhire believes Hughes can come off the bench and drive a fastball. The more Hughes does it in camp, the greater the chance Gardenhire finds a spot for Hughes on the Opening Day roster.

Danny Valencia also homered and Ben Revere had a two-run triple as part of the Twins' 14-hit attack. Kevin Slowey started and pitched four shutout innings, and Nick Blackburn pitched three shutout innings of relief.

As for Hughes, he has Matt Tolbert and Trevor Plouffe as competition for a utility role. Hughes can play second base and third base as well as the corner outfield sports, while the other two can play shortstop.

Hughes actually played the final two innings of Monday's game at short when the Twins ran short of bodies.

Gardenhire said that Tsuyoshi Nishioka's ability to play short makes it easier for him to keep a utility player who is not primarily a shortstop.

And the manager who coveted Nick Punto described a job that Hughes might be able to fill.

"I don't ask the utility guys to be Gold Glovers or anything like that,'' he said. "I just ask them to be serviceable players who can go out there and make the routine play and get the routine outs. That's what we're looking at from all those guys.''

LA VELLE E. NEAL III

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