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Updated: April 2nd, 2012 3:11pm
Notebook: Opposite-field hitting will be key for Danny Valencia

Notebook: Opposite-field hitting will be key for Danny Valencia

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Minnesota Twins third baseman Danny Valencia was noticeably pull-happy in 2011.

To be exact, when pulling the ball to left field last season (138 batted balls), Valencia batted .362 with a .696 slugging percentage. Those figures included 11 home runs and 13 doubles.

Up the middle (260 batted balls) Valencia hit .300 with four home runs, 12 doubles and two triples.

To right field (68 batted balls) Valencia hit just .179 with three doubles (.224 SLG).

Against the Rays on Monday, Valencia raised his spring batting average to .282 by going 3-for-4 with his fourth home run of the spring -- a solo blast to left field.

The Twins will gladly take those home runs to left, but Valencia also wants to do a better job of using the entire field.

"I feel like our park, as much as everybody says and gets tired hearing it, hitting opposite field home runs for right-handed hitters is almost out of the question," Valencia said. "In the minor leagues I hit a lot of balls to right field and hit oppo-home runs in the minor leagues. I haven't been able to do that in the big leagues yet. The ball just doesn't fly (at Target Field).

"But I feel like there's a lot more to tap into. I feel stronger than ever, and the ball seems to be jumping off my bat pretty well this year. My goals are pretty lofty."

Valencia has always appeared to stash more power than his career numbers have shown. He hits moon shots in batting practice, much like Delmon Young did, and 14 of the 15 home runs he hits in games last year traveled at least 370 feet (for whatever that's worth0.

Valencia did slug .483 in 539 Double-A plate appearances, but only .421 at Triple-A and .406 in 930 major league plate appearances.

"I think there's a lot in there," Valencia said, adding, "This game is not easy. In 2010 I was fortunate enough to get off to a really good start, and I felt good. I mean, I'm not trying to make any excuses for 2011. There was definitely stretches in 2011 where I felt great and just didn't have results. But I feel like I am the hitter I was in 2010. It's frustrating, the ups and downs in this game. It's a game based and predicated on failure."

Valencia knocked the cover off the ball in 2010, hitting .311/.351/.448 in 322 plate appearances, but those numbers dropped to .246/.294/.383 in 2011.

In all likelihood, his true talent level probably lies somewhere in between his 2010 and 2011 performances, with some untapped power in the bag.

"This game is hard," he said. "I can't emphasize how hard and humbling this game is. But I'm hoping I can find more consistency this year. ...

"It's 90 percent mental. Because physically, if you work out and you train and you eat right, you can physically go out there. But mentally can you deal with the ups and downs that come with the failure of this game? How you deal with it is what enables you to be successful. Take the good things out of the bad and learn from the bad things, then you can make yourself into a pretty good baseball player. I think when I was young it was harder for me to cope with the bad because you're not used to failure. A lot of guys in here, like Joe Benson, when he was up in high school and minor leagues, he didn't fail much. So to him, failing at a higher rate is frustrating at first."

Valencia's glove and bat will be key factors for the Twins as they attempt to dig out of a 99-loss hole.

Today's result

Twins 6, Rays 6 (tied) in Port Charlotte

Twins' spring record: 18-14-1

Francisco Liriano pitched five innings, allowing three runs (one earned) on seven hits and a walk while striking out seven.

• Closer Matt Capps blew a 6-4 lead with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning when Cody Rogers blasted a two-run homer.

Numbers game

6: Home runs for Luke Hughes this spring after his solo blast in the top of the ninth. Hughes also hit six home runs last spring.

8: Consecutive games with a hit for Justin Morneau, who singled to right field in three trips.

66: Innings caught in Grapefruit League action by Joe Mauer. In previous seasons (not counting 2011) he caught 90, 80, 91 and 90 innings. It's likely he will catch in Tuesday's game against the Rays.

Health report

• General manager Terry Ryan told reporters in Port Charlotte that Alexi Casilla received an anti-inflammatory shot in the back of his right knee. Casilla could be cutting it close for Friday's season opener.

• RHP Scott Baker (elbow tendonitis) threw a bullpen session on Monday, and the plan is for him to start the Fort Myers Miracle home opener on Thursday.

On deck

Tuesday: vs. Rays, 12:05 p.m. RHP Liam Hendriks vs. RHP Jeremy Hellickson.
Wednesday: vs. Fort Myers, 12:05 p.m. RHP Nick Blackburn vs. TBA.
Thursday: Off day

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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