Souhan: Willingham in April: .353 average and one baby boy

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 30, 2012 - 11:21 AM

It has been a memorable month for the offseason acquisition, who already has earned big points as a slugger and a family man.

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It has been a memorable month for Twins offseason acquisition Josh Willingham, who already has earned big points as a slugger and a family man.

Photo: Paul Battaglia, Associated Press

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Josh Willingham's scouting report on his infant son: "He does a lot of sleeping. He does a lot of eating. He does a lot of pooping."

Rogan Willingham was born Wednesday, and he already sounds like a ballplayer.

His daddy certainly looks like one.

Josh Willingham, whom Justin Morneau calls "the strongest guy I've ever played with," has appeared in 19 games for the Twins. He has reached base in each. He leads the team with five home runs and 15 RBI, and at .706, his is the only slugging percentage posted by a Twin that begins with a number larger than 4.

In Target Field, where the deep dimensions to center field and the power alleys have caused Jason Kubel to flee and Joe Mauer to wince, Willingham has proved that all ballparks are kind to dead-pull hitters.

As more celebrated and expensive free agents have struggled, Willingham has quickly become the Twins' most dangerous bat. As the Twins prepare to visit the Los Angeles Angels, Willingham has five more home runs than the Angels' Albert Pujols, meaning Willingham has five home runs.

Willingham signed with the Twins for three years and $21 million. Pujols signed for 10 years and $240 million.

This is not to say that Willingham has suddenly become a better hitter than Pujols, only that free agents can react unpredictably to new surroundings and new versions of pressure, and that it looks as if the Twins chose wisely when they made one of the quieter signings of the winter.

Willingham hasn't flinched. Sunday, after missing two games on paternity leave, he came to the plate in the first inning with runners on first and second and one out, and received a loud ovation. "It's always cool when you receive a positive reaction from the fans," he said. "And I appreciate it."

Willingham smashed a pitch to right-center. With Royals center fielder Jarrod Dyson playing him toward left, Willingham cruised to a triple.

By the time he came to the plate in the seventh, Willingham needed only a home run for the cycle. He grounded out to third, and then flied to right in the eighth, but his performance helped the Twins to a 7-4 victory, breaking a six-game losing streak.

"He should have kids more often," shortstop Jamey Carroll said.

"It's been a crazy, great few days, and I came in here today and didn't know what to expect as far as my timing and stuff like that," Willingham said.

Willingham effectively replaced Michael Cuddyer, who signed with Colorado for three years and $31.5 million. Cuddyer was the host and emcee of the Twins clubhouse; Willingham, at first glance, seems more like a wallflower.

"Oh, he's got a personality," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's got a sneaky sense of humor."

Pitching coach Rick Anderson, sitting on the couch in Gardenhire's office late Sunday afternoon, called him "a great teammate."

"He's awesome," Gardenhire said.

After the game, Willingham emerged quickly from the Twins clubhouse, waded through a few rows of reporters and snuck up behind a boy, reaching to tap him on the right shoulder. The boy turned, looked confused, then turned again and yelled, "Daddy!"

As Rhett, 5, wrapped his arms around Josh's legs, Ryder, 2, jumped up and down. "My wife had to be in the hospital for a few days so I had to take care of the boys and go back and forth to the hospital," he said. "It was crazy, but it was a great week."

Willingham possesses one trait that should make him an excellent Twin: He doesn't whine. Earlier this month, when Willingham was apparently shaken up in the field, Gardenhire offered to substitute for him. "He got mad at me," Gardenhire said.

Nor does Willingham complain about the dimensions of Target Field. "I've played in big parks most of my career," he said. "This is a great place to play. Is it big? Sure. But it's a really nice place, a really pretty place to play."

The left field stands seem to frame his home runs well.

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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