CLEARWATER, FLA. – Aaron Hicks wasn’t looking for mementos from his monster exhibition game Thursday. Nor was he expecting any.
“I don’t think I get anything,” Hicks said after homering three times in the Twins’ 10-6 victory over Philadelphia.
Not so fast. The lineup card from the game was left in Hicks’ stall by Twins director of baseball communications Dustin Morse, the first time he’s given a lineup card from a spring training game to someone.
In a few weeks, someone with the club might hand Hicks a plane ticket to the Twin Cities, and provide him with a stall in the swanky Twins clubhouse.
Hicks went 4-for-5 in his three-homer game Thursday, scoring four runs and driving in six, piling on to a strong spring training in which he’s clearly claimed the lead in the battle for the starting center-field position. His batting average rose from .318 to .407 on the day, and he’s now hit five home runs in the past three games he’s played in, the other two coming Monday against the Cardinals and Wednesday against Puerto Rico.
“Just get on base, steal a bag, help my team win ballgames,” Hicks, 23, said. “That’s all I tried to do today. Got three home runs, and we ended up winning the ballgame.”
Hicks, a switch-hitter, hit each of his three homers batting righthanded against lefty pitchers. He hit a solo shot off veteran Cliff Lee in the first inning on a fastball away that he hit to the opposite field. The second one was a solo shot off Jeremy Horst in the fifth, a fastball he pulled to left. Then he hit a two-run blast off Raul Valdes in the seventh, a fastball he tried to shoot to right field but struck really well.
“He had a good day,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “Mother Nature helped but you still gotta hit it.”
Hicks stepped into the batter’s box in the eighth inning with a chance at a four-homer day.
With runners on first and third and one out, Hicks took the first two pitches for balls then took a mighty swing and missed the third pitch.
“He took that one swing and it got colder by two degrees,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.
Hicks worked the count to 3-2 against Phillies righthander Zach Miner before getting a broken-bat single to center, scoring two runs. Hicks said he hadn’t homered three times in a game since high school. He’s the first Twin to homer three times in a game — exhibition or otherwise — since Justin Morneau did it in Chicago in July of 2007.
“The kid leading off, wow, what do you say,” Gardenhire said.
Hicks doesn’t have the job locked up yet. An example of the reason for that came in the first inning when he fielded Freddy Galvis’ drive to the wall in right-center field and sliced his throw to third base so badly that left-fielder Wilkin Ramirez, who had jogged to short left, gathered the ball.
Hicks runs well and has a strong arm in center, and the Twins want him to play his position. Hicks walked back to the dugout after the inning expecting to hear about the throw.
“Those are things we have talked about, both sides of the ball,” Gardenhire said. “We had just talked about him relaxing. Don’t try to panic. Don’t try to do too much. Don’t try to show off your arm strength. Get the ball to the cutoff guy. He does understand the game.”
The Twins had a shot to throw Galvis out, and Hicks knew he had to hit the cutoff man.
“I understand what needed to be done and I didn’t do it,” Hicks said. “It was perfectly understandable why he got into me. That’s what needs to be done.”
There’s just over three weeks left before Opening Day, and Hicks is making a strong case for heading north with the team. Still, he’s going to have to prove he can be a complete player.
But from the first week of camp through Thursday, teammates have spoken highly of Hicks. And the wave of support could help carry him all the way to Target Field.
“He’s a fun guy to watch, man,” Twins righthander Kyle Gibson said. “He goes out there and plays hard, has a good arm in the outfield. And, as you can see, he can swing the bat.”