8/2/2013 9:18 P.M. ET
Willingham, outfield reinforcements on the horizon
By Patrick Donnelly / Special to MLB.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins outfield situation has been about as stable as the San Andreas Fault this year, but manager Ron Gardenhire could soon be receiving reinforcements, led by the return of the team's leading home run hitter from last season.
Left fielder Josh Willingham took batting practice at Target Field before Friday's game against the Houston Astros, and Gardenhire said it's possible that he could return within the next week to 10 days. The 34-year-old slugger, who has been on the disabled list since undergoing surgery to clean up his left knee on June 3, is expected to begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Rochester on Monday, with a return to the Major League lineup a few days after that.
"He's running around," Gardenhire said as the Twins finished a round of batting practice on Friday. "We'll eventually get him on a rehab [assignment]. We've got a nice program set up for him. It looks like he's scheduled, if everything goes well, to rejoin us in Chicago at the end of this next trip. And that's if everything goes according to plan."
The Twins face the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field Aug. 9-11, and they'd welcome the return of the man who led the team with a career-high 35 home runs and 110 RBIs last year. On Friday, Willingham took a round of infield and ran the bases as his teammates took batting practice, then stayed on the field for a solo round of BP, during which he launched a handful of balls over the fence as he worked on refining a swing that hasn't seen game action in two months.
Willingham is hitting .224 with 10 home runs -- tied with Trevor Plouffe for the team lead -- and has 37 RBIs.
With regard to other outfielders whose return is on the horizon, Darin Mastroianni started in left field and batted leadoff on Friday night for Class A Advanced Ft. Myers. Wilkin Ramirez -- out since suffering a concussion on May 25 -- began a rehab assignment at Double-A New Britain on Monday.
Both Mastroianni and Ramirez are candidates to fill a gaping hole in center field with Thursday's demotion of Aaron Hicks to Rochester. Clete Thomas started in center on Friday, and he's the only player on the 25-man roster with center-field experience. Gardenhire chuckled when asked before Friday's game about his backup plan in center.
"Do I have a second center fielder in the house? Sure I do. And when I have to put one out there, you'll know who he is, too," Gardenhire said. "Let's not talk about that ... it makes me nervous. I've got one right now."
Twins hope Arcia's Minors success carries over
MINNEAPOLIS -- Less than a month ago, the Twins sent Oswaldo Arcia back to Triple-A Rochester to help him get refocused, regain his confidence and start having fun playing baseball again. On Friday, Arcia returned to Minneapolis after the Twins gave the same message to Aaron Hicks.
Arcia hit .375 with four home runs and 13 RBIs in 13 games during his July stint at Rochester. The Twins are hoping for a similar turnaround for Hicks, who was optioned to Triple-A on Thursday on the heels of a 7-for-43 (.163) stretch since the All-Star break.
"Right now, he's in that mode where he's struggling swinging, and every time he does hit a ball hard, it seems to be right at somebody," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I don't want him to get into the 'Why me?' type of stuff. 'When am I going to get a break?' I don't want him to go through that, which we all do at one point or another. ... It's time for him to relax a little bit, go to Triple-A, get some swings, get some confidence going."
Despite Hicks' struggles to adapt to Major League pitching, Gardenhire praised the rookie's ability to keep his offense from affecting his play in the field. Hicks made a number of highlight-reel catches in his first four months as a big leaguer, and his throw from right-center to nail Vernon Wells at third base at Yankee Stadium last month will not soon be forgotten.
"He's been playing great defense, which is something for a young kid to struggle like he has offensively and still play the defense that he played," Gardenhire said. "That's a good sign. ... He's going to be a good one. He's a good player, very talented, so this is a good time to let him refresh with a month left until September."
The Twins manager cautioned, however, that a return to Minneapolis for the season's final month is far from a given.
"We told him there's no guarantee he'll be back up here in September -- he's got to earn it. If he wants to get called back up, he's got to go down there and produce and play, and that's the way it should be, along with everybody else."
That's a message Arcia apparently took to heart. He was demoted on July 13 after managing just three hits -- all singles -- in his last 33 at-bats, but the big league staff received good reports from Rochester manager Gene Glynn on Arcia's development in his return to Triple-A.
"[Glynn] told me ... he's been swinging good, and he's made some real nice plays in the outfield," Gardenhire said. "He's playing a little more right field down there, but he's running the ball down good and everything's going well."
As for whether Arcia will stick with the Twins this time around, Gardenhire said it's anybody's guess, but he laid out what he thinks will be key to Arcia's advancement.
"It all going to depend on how he handles it mentally up at the plate, his strike zone, and if he's starting to get a feel for it. He's a strong young man -- we've seen him swing the bat, and we like it. He's very enthusiastic and he brings some pop. He can generate two or three runs in a hurry, and we need that right now."
Twins put in a little extra work before Friday's game
MINNEAPOLIS -- After his team played one of its worst games of the season, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire turned to the adage that a little hard work never killed anybody.
The Twins put in extra work before their usual round of batting practice on Friday at Target Field as they tried to clear the funk lingering from Thursday's 7-2 loss to the Royals. In that game, the Twins committed one error, made a handful of other miscues in the field and on the bases, and allowed the Royals to score in five consecutive innings while getting outhit, 11-5.
Thus, Gardenhire figured some extra sunshine and sweat would help his charges turn the page with a three-game series against Houston set to begin.
"Just get 'em out early, get the bad taste of that game out of the way," Gardenhire said of his reasoning. "That wasn't very fun for anybody involved. We were pretty sloppy. So just get out there to reinforce and talk about a few things we needed to do and what I'd like to see from here on in."
Injuries have forced the Twins to rely on backups -- and backups to backups -- at many positions, and many players have found themselves in unfamiliar spots. Take Ryan Doumit and Chris Herrmann, catchers who have been forced to share right field thanks to injuries to three outfielders.
"We've got a lot of people playing a lot of different positions. We've got catchers playing right field and things like that," Gardenhire said. "So it's just about making sure we understand what we're supposed to do with the ball, protect the ball, [hit the] cutoff man instead of launching it in the air.
"I want my middle infielders out getting the ball, and I want to make sure they understand that," he continued. "We're getting too close to the bag on relays, [with] two guys standing next to each other. So it's about the fundamentals, getting back to doing what we'd been doing very, very well. [Thursday] was sloppy, and I just thought it was as good a time as any -- we just got swept at home, so why not have a little workout, get their minds right and go from there."
Patrick Donnelly is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.