Time for Young and Plouffe to step up

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 15, 2011 - 11:26 AM

Delmon Young and Trevor Plouffe could turn this season into a buddy movie, but if this is their window of opportunity, they'll need to move quickly.

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Delmon Young hit a double in the fifth inning Thursday against the Kansas City Royals, one of two bullet doubles and a single on the night.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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They grew up near L.A., connected by the 101, high school baseball stars in the land of perpetual sun.

They hit the long ball, skipped college and earned the riches of first-round draft picks.

They became friends and, eventually, Twins teammates, and Thursday night the two 25-year-olds with pop and promise returned to the big leagues together, breathing life into their detoured careers and their team's perpetually convalescing lineup.

Delmon Young, activated from the disabled list, batted sixth Thursday night at Target Field and hit two bullet doubles and a single. His buddy Trevor Plouffe, back from the minors, batted seventh and hit a majestic, go-ahead, two-run homer in the fifth that scored Young and prompted an 8-4 Twins victory.

At what could be a turning point for the Twins' season and their futures in the organization, Young and Plouffe are connected again, this time not by the lines on a highway but those on a big-league scorecard.

"After the Babe Ruth-like performance he put together when I was down in Rochester, it was good to see him come right up here and go deep,'' Young said with a smile.

"It's nice to see him come back and have success in his first game,'' Plouffe said of Young. "He's a great player, and it's cool to have a friendship with him and also be his teammate.''

Young and Plouffe could turn this season into a buddy movie, but if this is their window of opportunity, they'll need to move quickly to keep it from slamming on their knuckles.

With Denard Span and Jason Kubel mending, Young and Plouffe have a couple of weeks to grow roots in the lineup. If they provide the power this team is missing, the Twins could soon become as deep and dangerous as the Mississippi.

When last seen in the big leagues, Plouffe was sailing throws like Tarvaris Jackson and Young was tying himself into the shape of a soft pretzel in the batter's box. Thursday, Ron Gardenhire made Plouffe his first baseman, then shifted him to designated hitter when Jim Thome's sore toe acted up.

Plouffe hit 15 home runs in 51 minor-league games this year and returned to the big leagues as a movable bat.

"He's pretty confident right now,'' Gardenhire said. "He's been swinging good, playing good. I think he's figured a few things out.''

If he succeeds, Plouffe will follow a path paved by Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer and Torii Hunter, players who required round-trip tickets the first few times they were called to the big leagues.

Plouffe left Minnesota not knowing where his next throw would go and returned not knowing which glove he'll wear.

Plouffe said he worried that shifting positions would hamper his hitting.

"But when I started to move around a little bit, I started to have some fun. It was like I rediscovered baseball, if you will.

"It was exciting. I didn't know where I was going to play. Just being able to go out there and compete, I was locked in on the game, because it wasn't second nature for me anymore.''

Plouffe will need to keep a few gloves in his locker. The Twins hope Young will occasionally make use of the one he carries to left field.

Last season, Young proved so productive at the plate that his right-angle routes in the outfield didn't matter so much.

Last season, Young drove in 112 runs. This season, he's on pace to drive in about 38, and it's too late in the season for him to ask for more time to find his swing.

"That's kind of why we gave him a week down there,'' Gardenhire said of Young's rehabilitation stint at Class AAA.

"I wanted to give him 30, 40 at-bats. Normally, Delmon has stated it takes him 140, 150 at-bats. He's had 'em. Let's see you swing now.''

If that sounds like a challenge, that's because it is. When Span and Kubel return, Gardenhire will have five outfielders, including Young, Ben Revere and Michael Cuddyer.

If Young doesn't produce, for the first time in his big-league career he won't be guaranteed a spot in the lineup.

"We know what he can do,'' Gardenhire said. "We'll see if he goes out and gets it done on the field.''

After Plouffe's home run, he and Young exchanged a quick handshake at home plate.

Don't they have a better celebration than that?

"We do,'' Plouffe said. "But that wasn't the right moment for it.''

Sounds like they have plans.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2:40 p.m. on 1500ESPN. Twitter: @Souhanstrib • jsouhan@startribune.com

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