Hartman: Willingham's bat is coming around

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 5, 2014 - 8:31 AM

The Twins slugger, slowed by injuries this season and last, has been displaying his power.

Twins left fielder Josh Willingham finally is starting to look like the slugger the Twins got as a free agent in 2012, after struggling because of injuries for most of last season and already missing 40 games this year because of a wrist injury.

It is pretty apparent that when he is in the lineup and healthy, the Twins can compete with anyone as they showed on their recent road trip to New York against the Yankees and to Milwaukee.

Willingham was asked last week before leaving town how difficult it was to miss such a big chunk of time at the start of this season.

“How tough has it been for me this year? It has been a little frustrating,” he said.

When asked if there was any other season that was as difficult, he simply said, “Yeah, last year.”

When the Twins signed Willingham to a three-year, $21 million contract in 2011, there was a big belief the righthanded slugger would be able to replace Michael Cuddyer’s bat in the lineup and also pull a number of home runs into the shorter left-field bleachers at Target Field.

His first year with the club in 2012 proved that out when Willingham hit .260 and led the team in home runs (35), RBI (110), slugging percentage (.524) and on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.890).

His 35 homers were the13th-highest single-season total in team history.

But last year, Willingham really struggled because of knee injuries. He managed to play 111 games, but he never looked like himself, hitting only .208 with 14 home runs and 48 RBI in 389 at-bats.

Then this season began, and Willingham played in only six games before breaking a bone in his wrist after being hit by a pitch.

But now the slugger is looking as if he’s back to that 2012 form. Willingham went 2-for-3 with an RBI and two runs scored in a 6-4 victory over Milwaukee on Wednesday night and extended his hitting streak to eight games. He is hitting .440 with four homers, 11 RBI and a .575 on-base percentage during that streak.

Following the Twins’ 6-4 victory over the Brewers on Tuesday, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire told the media that the team hopes Willingham’s injuries are behind him.

“Our concern was that he was swinging good when he started the season,” Gardenhire said. “You never know after you break a bone how it is going to come back. He’s come back, he’s on the baseball and I still think his legs are underneath him. He doesn’t have the knee problems and that has allowed him to do what he needs to do to get the bat head out.”

Twins saw potential

Willingham spent his 2011 season in Oakland. That year he faced the Twins seven times and hit .320 with three home runs and eight RBI, which helped convince General Manager Terry Ryan to bring him to Minnesota.

When Willingham signed, he said he knew why the Twins brought him here.

“I knew I was looked upon to bring some power and some thump to that lineup,” he said in 2011. “I think I’m at my best, offensively, when I’m going deep into some counts and working some walks and seeing a lot of pitches.”

The Twins saw Willingham reach that potential in 2012, and now it looks like he’s found it again in 2014.

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