HOUSTON — It’s the talk of Minute Maid Park. The former first-round pick is back tonight, the leadoff-hitting outfielder who was trying to establish himself as a potential star when an untimely injury interrupted his breakout season.
Strangely, nobody in south Texas seems to notice that Aaron Hicks will be back atop the Twins’ lineup for the first time since suffering a hamstring injury Aug. 19.
That’s probably because George Springer, the 11th pick of the 2011 draft, had 13 home runs and 14 stolen bases when he fractured his right wrist on July 2, leaving the Astros without one of their foundations for the future. Springer returns tonight as well, and like Hicks, he’ll be batting leadoff.
Springer steps right back into the right field spot that he’s expected to hold for years. Hicks, on the other hand, is in center field — but knows it’s unlikely that he’ll be there much longer. Paul Molitor has made it clear that Byron Buxton will inherit that position eventually, with Hicks moving to a corner spot. Whether that’s right field or left hasn’t been determined for the long term, but Hicks said he’s more comfortable at the moment in right field. I asked Molitor whether a player’s preference comes into play when he makes out lineups, and the manager’s answer was succinct: “No.”
Tonight, though, he stays in the center field spot he’s occupied his whole career, with Buxton, his batting average down to .189 at the moment, on the bench. Molitor said he believes having Hicks back will make a big difference to the Twins.
“We saw such tremendous progress this year in how he played, particularly on the offensive side,” Molitor said. “We welcome him back. We’ve got him in there playing center field and leading off tonight, so it kind of changes our lineup and the depth we can bring.”
Another big change for the Twins: Miguel Sano is back in the lineup, after being given yesterday off to rest his sore hamstring. Sano said the injury hasn’t healed, but it’s not as bad as it was a couple of days ago.
The Astros’ lineup is deeper than the Twins have seen, too; shortstop Carlos Correa, who missed last weekend’s series in Target Field with, yes, a hamstring injury, is back and batting third.
Here are tonight’s lineups for the first game of a nine-game road trip: