KANSAS CITY, MO. – Aaron Hicks’ problems got a lot worse on Wednesday, and it had nothing to do with another 0-for-5.
The rookie center fielder struck out three times and hit two routine flies to the outfield during the Twins’ 3-0 loss to the Royals, dropping his batting average to just .057 to start his career. But the lack of success at the plate didn’t bother manager Ron Gardenhire, who professes great patience with a rookie trying to figure out the big leagues.
But when his frustration boils over into a lack of hustle? That angers Gardenhire a lot more than a 2-for-35 start.
Hicks hit a pop fly into short center field in the seventh inning, and he jogged around first base as Lorenzo Cain waited for it to come down. Cain, however, closed his glove early and dropped the fly ball. Hicks stopped at second base — and probably was fortunate to be that distance away from his manager.
“I can’t handle that. I haven’t talked to him about it, because I always have to calm down before I talk to people,” Gardenhire said after Kansas City finished off its first sweep of the Twins since April 2011. “Not finishing running that ball out, hesitating, kind of slowing down, that bothers me an awful lot. I don’t care what you do on a baseball field, it takes no talent whatsoever to hustle, and he didn’t run it out. We finish balls off. We always run. That’s probably part of [Hicks’] frustration factor, but I can’t live with that. So I’ll have my conversation” with him.
Hicks, who didn’t play Tuesday, has struck out in the eight games he has played, and whiffed five times in two games here. Gardenhire, however, has remained resolutely behind his rookie outfielder, who won the job by hitting .370 with four home runs in spring training. “We’re just going to keep running him out there,” the manager said Wednesday.
There is one Twins who won’t be running out there this weekend, but his identity won’t be known until Saturday, when lefthander Scott Diamond rejoins the Twins rotation. His return means a current member of the rotation is headed to Class AAA Rochester — and Liam Hendriks did his best to strengthen his case to stay.
Perhaps pitching for his stay-out-of-Triple-A life, the 24-year-old Australian held the Royals to just one run over five innings in cold, windy, miserable Kauffman Stadium, though the one mistake was enough to drop him to 1-11 on his career. That’s because the Twins loaded the bases in the first two innings without scoring, then stranded another half-dozen runners on the night, going 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
“I definitely didn’t hurt my chances, though throwing 94 pitches didn’t help,” said Hendriks, who allowed a Billy Butler solo home run in the first inning, escaped a bases-loaded jam in the second, then finished with three strong innings. “I limited the damage.”
General Manager Terry Ryan hasn’t said how he will make room for Diamond, but Hendriks and lefthander Pedro Hernandez — who staked his case on a three-run, five-inning start on Sunday in Baltimore — are almost certainly the pitchers at risk.
“It’s going to be a nervous couple of days because of the weather,” not his job status, Hendriks joked. “I’ll just sit back and wait. You don’t want it in your head, ruining your off day. I’ll go out like I’m going to be here.”