Willingham could be back in lineup by Aug. 9

  • Article by: LA VELLE E. NEAL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 3, 2013 - 8:56 AM

Minnesota Twins' Josh Willingham

Photo: Carlos Osorio, Associated Press - Ap

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The Twins are about a week away from getting a key member of their lineup back.

Outfielder Josh Willingham has been taking batting practice all week and getting his running in as he recovers from left knee surgery he had on June 5. On Friday, Willingham hit balls all over Target Field. He hasn’t run the bases yet. “I’m back up to 10 miles an hour,” Willingham quipped about his running program.

On Monday, Willingham will join Class AAA Rochester for a rehab program. He’ll be the DH for a couple games then play the outfield. If all goes well, he could return to the lineup Aug. 9 when the team opens a three-game series against the White Sox in Chicago.

Clete, it’s all yours

With Aaron Hicks now at Class AAA Rochester, Clete Thomas is the only true center fielder on the roster. The Twins’ willingness to go with Thomas shows that they have been satisfied with how he has played despite a .228 batting average.

“Clete’s been playing well,” manager Ron Gardenhire said before Thomas scored the winning run in the Twins’ 4-3, 13-inning victory over the Astros. “Played well in center, played well in left. Has done a decent job with the bat. He’s come a long way. He’s shortened his swing, he puts the ball in play better.”

While Thomas is in center, there is no identifiable backup.

“Do I have a second center fielder in the house?” Gardy said, repeating the question. “Sure I do. I’ll let you know when I have to put one out there. Let’s not talk about that. It makes me nervous.”

As for Hicks …

Hicks, however, is the long-term solution in center. While he was excellent in the field, he dug a big hole for himself at the plate and was falling back into that hole in recent weeks.

He was sent to Rochester to become the hitter he should be, one that works counts and makes pitchers pay for mistakes.

The Twins told Hicks that he must earn a call-up before the season ends. They said the same thing to Brian Dozier last season and didn’t give him a September call-up when he didn’t perform the way they wanted him to.

So they are serious about Hicks ending his season in the minors if he doesn’t produce.

“We told him there was no guarantee he would be back up in September,” Gardenhire said. “He has to earn it. If he wants to get called back up, he has to go down there produce and play. And that’s the way it should be, with everybody else.”

With Willingham, Darin Mastroianni and Wilkin Ramirez beginning rehab assignments, the Twins are about a week away from having other outfielders to choose from.

Same reaction

Twins GM Terry Ryan was asked for his reaction to Thursday’s loss to the Royals, when Gardenhire said, “the fans don’t deserve to watch this crap.”

“I’m not sure I’d use the same vocabulary but we had a very difficult game in a lot of areas,” Ryan said. “Not just defensively.” Later, he added: “Gardy is right. No one deserves to pay good money to watch what went on.”

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