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Updated: June 10th, 2012 12:25pm
Notebook: Plouffe in control at the plate; Hendriks lights-out again

Notebook: Plouffe in control at the plate; Hendriks lights-out again

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- No job was safe in April and May as the Minnesota Twins tumbled double-digit games below .500 right out of the gate.

That's why Luke Hughes was designated for assignment. That's why Danny Valencia -- a two-year starter at third base -- was optioned to Triple-A Rochester. And that's why Jason Marquis, who signed a $3 million contract this offseason, was sent packing after a handful of bad starts.

On May 8, Trevor Plouffe was hitting just .103/.286/.205 with one home run, and it would be a lie to say he was a defensive asset at the time -- like a Jamey Carroll, for instance.

But the Twins stuck with him, in large part because Plouffe was out of minor league options.

One month later and Plouffe has become one of the Twins' most dangerous power threats. Since May 8 Plouffe is hitting .256/.297/.593 with eight home runs, five doubles and 15 RBIs playing mostly at third base.

His batting average (.208) and on-base percentage (.293) on the season still leave a lot to be desired, but Plouffe's .472 slugging percentage ranks third on the team behind Josh Willingham (.567) and Justin Morneau (.513).

Perhaps most telling is Plouffe's Isolated Power (ISO) ranking -- slugging percentage minus batting average, which essentially isolates a hitter's doubles, triples and home runs. If Plouffe qualified for the batting title his .264 ISO mark heading into Sunday would rank 16th among all hitters.

Plouffe said they key to his recent hot streak has been taking a better approach at the plate.

"Just getting myself into some better counts and swinging at strikes," Plouffe said. "I think that's a big part of hitting in general, getting into those counts and not chasing pitches. It's the pitcher's job to get you to chase those, and earlier this season I was doing that."

In 140 trips to the plate this season Plouffe has found himself ahead 2-0 in the count 22 times and behind 0-2 in the count 29 times, although that ratio has improved over the last month. By comparison, Joe Mauer has been ahead 2-0 on 55 occasions while falling into an 0-2 hole 40 times.

Of Plouffe's 26 hits this season only one has gone to straight right field. Eight of his nine home runs have gone to left field and one to center field. Since the beginning of last season more than 54% of Plouffe's batted balls have gone to straight left field according to scouting reports provided by Inside Edge.

Despite those numbers, manager Ron Gardenhire isn't ready to say Plouffe, 25, is a dead-pull hitter quite yet.

"I just know that he's definitely up there looking to drive a baseball," Gardenhire said. "He works awfully hard at shooting the ball the other way and driving the ball the other way. That probably helps him once he gets into the game. His bat is staying in the zone a lot longer than it used to. ...

"It looks like he's not missing his pitch when he gets it a little bit more now."

Throughout the early stages of his minor league career Plouffe showed some home run power -- 49 home runs in his first 2,873 plate appearances (or about nine per season) -- but nothing like what he has delivered the past two years in Rochester and now in the big leagues.

"It takes time. Early in your career you try to cheat to that (inside) pitch a lot," Plouffe said. "For me, I've seen a lot of guys, such as Josh Willingham, the way he just focuses on staying up the middle and using the big part of the field. He just reacts for that pitch in. It's not about looking for it and turning on it. It's about knowing that you're going to get to it and staying up the middle, and that's helped me a lot. ...

"Before, I would look for that pitch and pull off it, and it would set me up for off-speed away. But right now I'm just trying to stay up the middle and react."

It's working. And the Twins' patience with Plouffe seems to be paying off.

Hendriks impressive again

Twins decision-makers wanted Liam Hendriks to correct certain mistakes that he wasn't getting away with in the big leagues.

It appears he may have done that.

Hendriks, in his seventh start for Triple-A Rochester on Saturday, pitched 8 2/3 scoreless innings against Indianapolis. He struck out 10, walked two, allowed three hits, and most impressively he did not allow any fly balls to the outfield.

This masterpiece came on the heels of seven scoreless innings in his last start.

The Twins need a fifth starting pitcher next Saturday against Milwaukee, and it's likely Hendriks -- with his 1.94 Triple-A ERA -- will get the call.

"After throwing a 124 pitches with Hendriks you've got to look at it," Gardenhire said. "A couple of days is probably not a bad thing. It would be a week before he started if we decided to go that route."

Gardenhire said Hendriks' fastball command is what the Twins have been watching closely.

"Everybody said the same thing, he (wasn't) commanding his fastball. They set up outside, he throws it inside. They set up inside, he throws it outside. ...

"When he was up here he was misfiring pretty good. You could see him, he was lost. The last outing he had up here he was screaming at himself in the dugout and basically he needed to take it easy. Go down and get some confidence. Right now it sounds like he's got it. We'll see. We'll make a decision in the next week, decide what we want to do here. If he's the guy he's the guy. We like him. We know he can compete. We know he can do some things. Hopefully he's regrouped enough and he can help us. If that's the case then we'll decide to call up him."

Diamond sets record

With six shutout innings on Saturday, Scott Diamond lowered his ERA to 1.61 after his first seven starts. According to the Elias Sports Bureau that 1.61 mark is the lowest for any Twins rookie in his first seven starts of the season since the team arrived to Minnesota in 1961.

Of course, Diamond started seven games last year, but his innings total was low enough that he still qualifies as a rookie in 2012.

Twins sign 10 picks

The Twins have now signed 10 of their 43 draft picks:

LHP Mason Melotakis (2nd round)
RHP Zack Jones (4th round)
LHP Andre Martinez (6th round)
LHP Taylor Rogers (11th round)
RHP Alex Muren (12th round)
OF Jake Proctor (14th round)
1B D.J. Hicks (17th round)
OF Jonathan Murphy (19th round)
IF Joel Licon (25th round)
3B Bryan Haar (34th round)

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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