HOUSTON – Aaron Hicks has been a center fielder his entire professional career, all eight seasons of it, and he was back in center for the Twins on Friday night.
But if it’s essentially a farewell appearance, Hicks said he’s OK with that.
“Of course I love center field,” Hicks said after being activated from the disabled list, his sore left hamstring now completely healed. “But when it comes to helping this team win, I’m OK with playing all three positions. I have no problem with it.”
Neither does his manager, especially with a defender with the range of Byron Buxton on his roster. Just to make sure, though, Paul Molitor had a pregame discussion with the 25-year-old veteran, who arrived Friday after a four-game rehab stint with Class AAA Rochester, and made sure he understood what his duties in September might look like.
“Aaron will be called upon probably more than the other guys to rotate around a little bit. He’ll probably will play all three, to some degree, where [Eddie] Rosario most likely will be in left or right,” Molitor said. “And when Buxton plays, he’s going to be in center. That’s probably how it’s going to shape up.”
That’s not to downplay Hicks’ role, however. Molitor made it clear how happy he is that the switch-hitter is back, immediately putting him in the leadoff spot.
“Aaron’s return is big for us. We saw such tremendous progress this year in how he played, particularly on the offensive side,” the manager said. “His stint down there in Rochester went smoothly. … It kind of changes our lineup and the depth we can bring.”
Coincidentally, Hicks wasn’t the only leadoff-hitting former first-round pick to return to action Friday.
Astros right fielder George Springer, out since fracturing his right wrist, was activated before the game and restored to the leadoff spot, too.
Righthander Logan Darnell arrived from Rochester, too, giving the Twins 11 different options in the bullpen.
That ought to be plenty, Molitor said.
“I would think we’re probably set,” the manager said of calling up additional pitchers. That probably means that righthander Alex Meyer and lefthander Aaron Thompson, each of whom spent time with the Twins this season, will be sent home once Rochester completes its International League season next week.
Darnell figured he was going home, too, until he was pulled from his start Thursday in the fifth inning, after throwing just 68 pitches. The 26-year-old former sixth-round pick was told that the Twins want him to serve as a long reliever this month, should the need arise. Considering that 28 of his 35 appearances this season were in relief, Darnell said it’s a good fit for him.
He posted an 0.85 ERA in his last five starts for the Red Wings, though, so he believes his bullpen experience helped him.
• Molitor on how well Kevin Jepsen has filled the role of injured closer Glen Perkins: “I kind of look at it from the flip side — if we didn’t have him, how would things look for us at this point?” Jepsen has five saves during Perkins’ absence with neck and back issues.
• Phil Hughes will throw in the bullpen this weekend, then join the Twins in Kansas City next week and throw a simulated game. Hughes, out because of a sore back that required a cortisone shot, has not pitched since Aug. 9.