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Updated: June 15th, 2013 10:12pm
Notebook: Trevor Plouffe comes up big in return after extended absence

Notebook: Trevor Plouffe comes up big in return after extended absence

by Brandon Warne
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe had plenty of reasons to smile Saturday evening at Target Field.

For one, he was celebrating his 27th birthday. But more importantly, Plouffe found himself back in the Twins' lineup for the first time since he sustained a concussion in a collision with Atlanta's Dan Uggla on May 21.

Plouffe celebrated his big day in fashion, homering in his second plate appearance in the fourth inning off of Anibal Sanchez, who only lasted 3 ⅔ innings before departing with muscle stiffness. Plouffe also added a double off reliever Darin Downs in the sixth inning, and went 3-for-3 with three RBIs and a walk as the Twins topped the Tigers 6-3.

Plouffe had been slated to return on May 30, but injured his left calf in pregame warmups with team trainer Perry Castellano.

Returning for Plouffe was particularly sweet, as he'd tweeted Friday night that fans had no idea how badly he wanted to play this weekend against Detroit. But Plouffe said he really had no idea whether or not that was a possibility when he tweeted it.

"(The Twins) didn't tell me anything, which was really tugging at me," Plouffe said. "I wanted to be back, but didn't really have a time frame."

Plouffe said his rehab went well in Rochester, and that he felt ready to step back in and regain the form that saw him hit .292/.365/.477 in May with eight extra-base hits.

"I feel good," Plouffe said. "I had some good at bats down in Rochester, and faced some good pitchers. I felt comfortable. I moved around well in Rochester, and I've been able to run for a week, maybe a week and a half."

Thomas slotted atop the order

Clete Thomas batted leadoff for the Twins Saturday, making him the sixth different leadoff hitter the club has tried this season.

Thomas, who has batted leadoff 19 times in his career, hasn't hit in the top spot since June 4, 2009 for the Tigers against Boston.

Manager Ron Gardenhire said it was simply a product of Thomas having good at bats.

"He's been swinging the bat well lately, and we're kind of desperate," Gardenhire said. "We're looking for someone to give us quality at bats. He's been swinging the bat good; he came up swinging the bat good. You take your chances; lefties do better than righties on (Sanchez). We tried to get all our lefty hitters in there today. He no-hit us for a long time last time."

Thomas quickly squashed any talk of a repeat performance from Sanchez with a leadoff single, but struck out the next three times at the plate to finish 2-for-5.

Twins leadoff hitters continue to be mired in a colossal struggle. As a group, they have the lowest batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage -- a .171/.226/.204 line -- and all by large margins.

In fact, in on-base percentage rankings -- largely considered the most important statistic for a leadoff hitter -- the next worst team is the New York Mets. The Mets are 41 points ahead of the Twins with a .267 mark.

Gibson posts another ho-hum start

Kyle Gibson made his 14th start of the season for the Rochester Red Wings on Friday night, facing off against former teammate Brandon Boggs and the Gwinnett Braves. Gibson took a no-decision after leaving down 5-0, but he wasn't solely to blame for that hole.

Gibson went six innings, throwing 91 pitches (55 strikes). He allowed four runs (three earned), fanning four with just one walk on a night his defense would soon like to forget. The Red Wings committed three errors, with two coming from catcher Drew Butera.

Oddly, the Red Wings pushed across five in the bottom of the ninth to steal a 6-5 win.

An outing like this likely won't dispel the Twins' qualms about Gibson's consistency, but general manager Terry Ryan also noted that Gibson not only had to perform, but nudge another Twins starter out of their role.

Ryan's point makes sense. In June, Twins starters are ninth in ERA with a 3.30 mark entering play Saturday.

But Ryan said the need for pitching is never far away, and that he hoped Gibson would pitch well enough that when the inevitable next call would come for an arm, that the lanky right-hander would force his hand.

Gibson is 6-5 with a 3.26 ERA on the season.

Notes

Wilkin Ramirez will head down to Fort Myers early Sunday morning to take part in some mini-camp activities as he continues to progress on his way back from a concussion.

The mini-camps take the place of the extended spring training program, which wrapped up prior to the draft, and are where draft picks get sent right out of the chute to get acclimated a bit.

Once Ramirez is ready for game activities, he'll move across the street and join the Fort Myers Miracle as part of an official rehab assignment. Ryan estimated this would take place early next week sometime.

• Twins 29th-round draft choice Logan Shore threw a no-hitter in the first round of the Class 3A quarterfinals to lead top-seeded Coon Rapids past Wayzata 2-1 Thursday morning at Midway Stadium in St. Paul.

The Twins have more or less conceded to having no chance at signing Shore, who will play for Kevin O'Sullivan at Florida in hopes of improving his draft standing over the next three years.

• Starter P.J. Walters has committed to matching the Twins' donation of $1,000 dollars to the Prostate Cancer Foundation for every strikeout he records in his start on Sunday.

Walters' high-water mark for strikeouts as a big leaguer came with the Twins in 2012, as he fanned eight Chicago White Sox in a complete game win on May 22.

Walters said that while he doesn't have any particular connection to prostate cancer, he just felt that so many people are affected by cancer every year that it felt like the right thing to do.

Brandon Warne covers the Minnesota Twins for 1500ESPN.com. He has also contributed as a baseball analyst for Fangraphs.com and BaseballProspectus.com
Email Brandon | @Brandon_Warne
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