KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Amazing what a four-hit shutout will do to the best-laid plans.
Josh Willingham’s scheduled Saturday return to the Twins’ lineup has been accelerated by a game, assuming all goes well during his four-game rehab stint with Class AAA Rochester. Assistant general manager Rob Antony was succinct about the reason for the change.
“Four hits,” he said.
That’s all the Twins managed against Royals righthander Jeremy Guthrie on Monday, making it obvious how much the team could use Willingham’s bat in the middle of the lineup. After all, he’s been gone more than five weeks, and not until Tuesday did Willingham surrender the Twins’ home-run lead, 11-10, after Justin Morneau’s first-inning blast against Kansas City starter James Shields.
“We need a little bit of a shot in the arm,” Antony said. “It might be a situation where he’s a better alternative than what we have.”
So the new plan is for Willingham — who played four innings in left field Tuesday and went 0-for-3 at the plate — to fly to Chicago on Friday morning, watch the first game and be activated in time to play the nightcap of the doubleheader against the White Sox.
Trevor Plouffe survived his headfirst, top-speed tumble into a spectators’ “dugout” near third base mostly, he said, because he landed on a fan who kept his head from cracking into the concrete floor.
“Thankfully, I fell into someone,” the third baseman said. “There wasn’t much he could do.”
Plouffe knew the padded railing was there, but didn’t slow down as he approached it. That’s because he was desperate to do something right, since not much has gone right lately.
“I was just kind of upset with myself, so I wasn’t really thinking about anything but trying to help my team in any way. I didn’t do it at the plate or on the basepaths [Monday] night,” Plouffe said. “I really didn’t think about [the impact], I just went after the ball.”
He caught it a split second before his thighs collided with the railing, flipping him upside down as he fell. It looked dangerous, but Plouffe said he had no bruise a day later.
Still, he was out of the lineup after playing 19 of the past 20 games, and his health had nothing to do with it. Plouffe had gone 6-for-54 since the All-Star break, a .111 batting average that included only one extra-base hit (though he had a home run stolen by Lorenzo Cain during the last homestand).
“Mentally, he’s fighting it right now. You can see his swing — he’s so frustrated with everything,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I think he was frustrated at first base, wasn’t paying attention and got picked off [after reaching on a fielder’s choice in the fourth inning]. So it looks to me like he needs a little bit of a break.”
• Cole De Vries struck out four in three hitless innings Monday for the Twins’ Gulf Coast League rookie team, so the Twins will transfer him to Class A Fort Myers on Wednesday to begin a rehab assignment as he recovers from an elbow injury. De Vries will start for the Miracle on Sunday.
• Alex Meyer and Pedro Hernandez will begin their rehab stints on Friday in the GCL, with Meyer throwing two innings and Hernandez three. The Twins would like Meyer in particular to make a couple of rookie-level starts and then return to Class AA before the season ends.