Hartman: At plate and at third, Plouffe proves worth

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 15, 2012 - 12:51 AM

After a rough start, the hot-hitting Twins infielder is ably filling the void left by Danny Valencia's departure.

The Twins thought they had found their third baseman of the future in Danny Valencia in 2010 when he came up to the major leagues and hit .311 in 85 games with seven home runs, 18 doubles, 40 RBI and 30 runs scored.

But in 2011, Valencia's batting average dropped to .246 with 15 home runs and 72 RBI. He also had 18 errors and there were questions about his ability to adequately handle third base defensively. Those 18 errors were second in the American League, trailing only Mark Reynolds of the Baltimore Orioles.

No one seems to have the answer for what happened to the promising former University of Miami star. He hit rock-bottom and was sent down to Class AAA Rochester after hitting .190 in 27 games for the Twins this season, including a nasty 0-for-25 streak over the month of May.

When Valencia was sent down, neither Trevor Plouffe nor manager Ron Gardenhire had any idea that Plouffe would replace Valencia at third base. Around that time, Plouffe said: "I think Danny just went down to get some swings and get some confidence back. Danny is a heck of a player and a heck of a third baseman. I am a guy that's going to move around and play all over the place. Danny will be back up here shortly and he'll be doing his thing."

But it looks as if that is not going to happen, as Plouffe is one of the hottest hitters in baseball, and Valencia continues to struggle in Rochester, hitting .231 through 30 games.

Plouffe hit only .238 in 81 games last year playing five positions -- although not a single game at third base -- and he was struggling this year with a .231 average on May 10. But taking over third base seems to have elevated his hitting drastically.

Before Thursday's game against the Phillies, Plouffe was hitting .274 since May 10th, with 10 home runs, six doubles, 19 RBI and 17 runs scored. He has posted a .653 slugging percentage and .963 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) -- to give you an idea of how hot Plouffe has been, a .963 OPS would currently rank sixth overall in the American League.

What has been even more impressive though, is that for the month of June, Plouffe is hitting .400 with six home runs, four doubles, 13 RBI and 11 runs scored in 40 at-bats, posting a tremendous .950 slugging percentage and 1.379 OPS. He added another home run Thursday night.

Plouffe credits Twins hitting coach Joe Vavra for his improved hitting.

"With Joe, we've been working a lot, man," Plouffe said. "We've been working a lot. He knows what he's talking about, and we just stick to the routine and the results will come, you just have to keep putting your work in."

Before taking over the third base job, Plouffe always had two gloves available.

"I have an outfielder's glove and an infielder's glove [in my locker]," he said. "My infielder's glove is one that I can take to all three different positions and if I have to get over to first base there's a couple of guys here that I'll borrow their glove."

But if Plouffe keeps on hitting like he has, he will need only one glove.

Complicated situation

When University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler was asked how the bid for excavating the new Siebert Field on campus was awarded, he answered: "It was very complicated," and refused to elaborate.

Well, at least one feature the new baseball complex won't have is a covered batting cage. And there may be other features that will be missing because Kaler and Kathleen O'Brien, retiring vice president of university services, said they couldn't accept the excavating bid of Ames Construction for $900,000 even though Dick Ames, a longtime U benefactor, was willing to give the school the money back after the work was completed.

Ames and his brother, Butch, were willing to pay back the $900,000 provided the university paid them for the job in installments over three years as it was being done and then it would be returned as a charitable contribution.

However, because Ballinger Company submitted a lower bid of $790,000 for the work, the U couldn't accept the deal.

Outgoing athletic director Joel Maturi said he went to Kaler on behalf of Ames, but was told it would violate the law by not awarding the job to the lowest bidder, even though the U effectively would get the work done free.

Jottings

• The Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings have some Minnesota connections: Tim Leiweke, former Timberwolves vice president of marketing, is president of Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns the Kings; Dean Lombardi, president and general manager of the team, was an assistant manager to Jack Ferreira with the Minnesota North Stars from 1988-1990.

• Gophers defensive end Ra'Shede Hageman, who was arrested while breaking up a fight at a campus bar, had the charges dropped by Judge Jamie L. Anderson, according to U officials. On May 10th, Hageman had been cited for a misdemeanor disorderl conduct.

• The reason the Twins' top draft pick, Byron Buxton, received a $6 million signing bonus and Houston's top choice, Carlos Correa, got $4.8 million was that the Astros probably made a pre-draft deal with Correa guaranteeing him they would draft him No. 1, according to the Twins.

• Former Twins shortstop Tsuysoshi Nishioka still is struggling with the bat, hitting only .214 for Class AAA Rochester.

• Gophers basketball player Mo Walker, who missed action last season because of an ankle problem, recently had surgery and is expected to make a good recovery.

• The University of Minnesota was scheduled to be the host of the Big Ten outdoor track meet this year, but because the Gophers track stadium needs a lot of work, the Gophers will be host of the 2015 meet instead.

• Mario Chalmers is averaging 11.6 points, 4 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game in the postseason for the Heat. The Timberwolves originally selected Chalmers 34th overall in the 2008 NBA draft but traded his rights to the Heat for two 2009 second-round picks, which the Wolves used to select Nick Calathes from Greece and Henk Norel from the Netherlands, who have not played for the Wolves yet.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com

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