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Updated: May 27th, 2014 11:32pm
Zulgad: Aaron Hicks would be best served by learning in Rochester

Zulgad: Aaron Hicks would be best served by learning in Rochester

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by Judd Zulgad

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins got some welcomed news on Tuesday afternoon when they learned Texas right-hander Yu Darvish had been scratched from his scheduled start at Target Field.

The primary beneficiary of the Rangers ace having a stiff neck appeared to be no-longer-switch-hitting center fielder Aaron Hicks.

A day after getting two hits against Rangers righty Nick Tepesch in his first big-league game batting exclusively from the right side of the plate, Hicks went from the prospect of facing a top-level starter to hitting against right-hander Scott Baker, the former Twin who was going to be bounced from Texas' rotation and was pitching on three days of rest.

It turned out who started for Texas did not matter.

Hicks remained inept as ever as he grounded to second base in the third and struck out swinging in the fifth before being pinch-hit for by Josmil Pinto in the eighth inning. The Twins rallied to win the game 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth.

Hicks' 0-for-2 night dropped his average to .195/.328/.257 on the season with one home run and eight runs batted in. Hicks did provide a highlight-reel catch when he went airborne over the center field fence to pull back what would have a three-run homer by Donnie Murphy in the top of the second but making that type of grab isn't new for Hicks.

Hitting from only one side of the plate is another matter.

There was plenty of discussion, not to mention a bit of outrage, on the morning show I do with Phil Mackey on 1500 ESPN on Tuesday about the fact Hicks had made the decision to quit switch-hitting over the weekend, told his agent of the decision and then informed the team.

This didn't seem like the best approach given one would think the Twins would have wanted a say in the matter. But two weeks after acting general manager Rob Antony and manager Ron Gardenhire put Hicks on notice for his approach, neither expressed any disdain about the fact the player dictated how things would go.

Antony might have shed some light on why there weren't any objections, when he voiced what everyone else had seen as well.

"This year it looked liked left-handed he was just trying to defend himself at the plate and put the ball in play," Antony said. "He was trying to cut down on his strikeouts. There were just a lot of pitches that he looked like he was just hoping were balls. Right-handed, I think, he's more aggressive on a lot of pitches."

Listening to Antony elaborate on Hicks' issues from the left side of the plate, it's surprising the Twins weren't more proactive this offseason in getting him to hit exclusively from the right side.

"I think he just strongly believes that right-handed is his natural side," Antony said. "He did the switch-hit thing for a long time, and I think it was something he was always trying to do well because it would benefit him and it would benefit us.

"But I think in his mind it was a relief to just say, 'I'm going to bat from my better side. I'm more confident and more comfortable.' Every time I saw him in the minor leagues he took much better swings and much better at-bats from the right side."

That statement comes as a slight surprise given that Hicks had a solid season from both sides of the plate in 2012 at Double-A New Britain. He batted .287/.394/.434 as a left-handed hitter and .283/.359/.522 from the right side.

The contention from this corner has been that upon being informed of Hicks' decision to forego switch-hitting, the Twins should have given him a one-way ticket to Triple-A Rochester to work on being a full-time right-handed hitter. An examination of Hicks' statistics in the major leagues provides ammunition that even if he had continued batting from both sides of the plate the wise move would have been to get him to the minors.

Hicks hit .192/.259/.338 with eight homers and 27 RBI last season. He had a .186 average batting left-handed and .203 right-handed. This year, Hicks was at .273/.341/.407 from the right side and .149/.209/.284 from the left side.

If Sam Fuld was not battling concussion-like symptoms, Hicks would have been working on his game at Rochester long before he made this decision. The only reason he wasn't is because the Twins somehow left themselves with no other options to play center on their 40-man roster.

"We've talked about," sending Hicks down, Antony said. "It would be great to send him to Triple-A."

Whether it was to justify the point to himself or the media about why Hicks is still in Minnesota, Antony then attempted to put a positive spin on the fact Triple-A might not be as big of help as some maintain.

"I'm not sure he would face everything," Antony said. "Even if he goes down and did fairly well, it's completely different. You watch Triple-A ball for a week and then come back and watch (big-league games) and it's night and day because the best guy that you just saw down in Triple-A isn't as good as the fifth starter (in the majors) in a lot of cases."

Nonetheless, it's hard to believe it would be a bad idea to allow Hicks to fortify what appears to be shaky confidence by finally getting substantial time at Triple-A.

This is a guy who also has never gotten into the routine of facing right-handers as a righty and thus will be in for a difficult assignment when it comes to hitting sliders that are breaking away. Those breaking balls always have broken toward Hicks' body, on either side of the plate. Now, those pitches will move away from him. And, if nothing changes, those pitches will continue to come from big-league arms.

"A lot of it will be determined by his pitch recognition," Antony said. "He sees that, he picks the pitches up early enough, you can combat that as well. We watched (Michael) Cuddyer and (Torii) Hunter and a lot of really good players go get abused with sliders.

"With experience they became better and started laying off those pitches and getting better pitches. Torii is now one of the great bad-breaking ball hitters but for a while he'd be chasing. Then all of a sudden he started laying off ... there's just no substitute for experience."

Should Hicks be getting that experience in the big leagues? That remains up for debate.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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