MINNEAPOLIS—With Trevor Plouffe in a month-long slump, General Manager Terry Ryan was asked before Thursday’s game if the Minnesota Twins needed to add another third baseman this offseason.
“If it’s the Plouffe we saw in June, you’d say, ‘Man, we don’t have to worry about (third base) much,’’’ Ryan said. “If it’s the Plouffe we’re seeing in September, well there’s some concern.”
As if on cue, Plouffe responded with one of his better games, offensively and defensively. His ninth-inning, game-tying homer helped give the Twins a 4-3, 10-inning victory over the Royals at Target Field.
Plouffe drilled his 21st home run into the left-field seats off the Royals’ Greg Holland, who was 13-for-13 in save chances since becoming Kansas City’s closer on July 31.
Alexi Casilla doubled to start the 10th inning against Francisley Bueno, and Denard Span followed with another double to deep right field, giving the Twins their sixth walk-off victory.
The Twins narrowly avoided Kansas City’s first three-game sweep in Minnesota since 1998. Plouffe entered the game batting .167 with one home run and nine RBI since returning from his thumb injury Aug. 13.
Asked if Plouffe needed a big moment like this, Manager Ron Gardenhire said, “I don’t know if he did; I did.”
Plouffe spoiled the team earlier this season. He hit 18 home runs in a 39-game stretch that ended July 3, but he landed on the disabled list later that month.
“Since I came back off the DL, it’s been a little bit of a struggle for me, there’s no doubt about it,” Plouffe said.
“But no one’s going to feel sorry for you. You’ve got to get yourself out of these ruts, and that’s what a good big league baseball player does.”
Josh Willingham connected for his 34th homer in the first inning, so this marked the eighth time he and Plouffe have homered in the same game.
Plouffe went 2-for-4 and made a diving play down the line to rob Alcides Escobar of an RBI hit in the fifth inning. Plouffe has been doing extra work on his defense daily, honing his first-step quickness.
“That ball was hit pretty decent, and that’s as quick as we’ve seen him move,” Gardenhire said. “That was a really good play. He came up and made a really aggressive throw.”
Plouffe’s home run took Liam Hendriks off the hook for a loss. The rookie righthander allowed three runs over five innings, using 98 pitches, and remained winless in 17 major league starts.
“I told him he got half of a win,” Gardenhire said. “After the first inning, I was a little disappointed. He wasn’t attacking. Then he started throwing his fastball down a lot better, attacking the hitters.”
Hendriks, 23, and Plouffe, 26, still have a lot to prove. Ryan said Plouffe will be “in the mix” for the starting job at third base next spring, making it clear that nothing will be given to him. Still, the Twins would love to see this work.
“We are not going to give up on Trevor Plouffe as long as he doesn’t give up on himself,” Ryan said.
“As cold as he is now, he was doubly hot through that (earlier) stretch. You can’t give up on that.”