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Updated: August 30th, 2012 12:48pm
Plouffe still has much to prove, but 20 bombs 'absolutely' meaningful

Plouffe still has much to prove, but 20 bombs 'absolutely' meaningful

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- It's been an up-and-down season for Trevor Plouffe in a number of ways.

The 26-year-old entered spring training as an outfielder but eventually took over as the starting third baseman after Danny Valencia's early-May demotion.

At the time of Valencia's departure, Plouffe was hitting just .103 with one home run and a .205 slugging percentage. If he wasn't out of minor league options, it's likely he would have been sent to Rochester as well.

But something clicked beginning on May 16, when Plouffe proceeded to hit 18 home runs during a six-week stretch where he was, perhaps, the single hottest power hitter in baseball.

Plouffe's season was temporarily derailed in July due to a severely bruised thumb, and his timing suffered for a period due to the layoff. But on Tuesday night -- after going 100-plus plate appearances without a home run -- Plouffe hit his 20th of the season, which is a milestone he, and his manager, would have taken if given the chance in March.

"Absolutely," Ron Gardenhire said.

"Everybody says this guy can hit, and he's hit throughout the minor leagues. And you have to do it up here as a utility role, playing outfield, infield the whole package. Wherever he's been, all over the field, you say 20 home runs out of Plouffe this year, I think everybody would say that'd be unbelievable."

Plouffe generally deflects personal praise toward his teammates -- specifically locker neighbor Josh Willingham -- but he did acknowledge after Wednesday's game that 20 home runs is a meaningful milestone for him.

"Obviously that wasn't something I think about, really, to be honest with you," Plouffe said. "Coming into the season I was fighting for a job just to be on the team."

Plouffe is still fighting for a job. His offense has come and gone in waves, and his defense rates among the league's worst at third base according to plus/minus data.

But he appears to be clicking again at the plate once again, and his home run on Wednesday was well-timed considering general manager Terry Ryan challenged him publicly just 24 hours prior.

"He's setting a little bit of a higher standard, because he went off on that run when he was healthy," Gardenhire said. "What's his limits? I don't know. I don't know his limits. I don't know how many he could hit if he stayed on a real good groove on day one of the season all the way through."

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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