Hicks credits vet Hunter for improved play

Hicks credits vet Hunter for improved play

MINNEAPOLIS -- Like so many of his teammates in so many times this year, Twins center fielder Aaron Hicks was quick to credit Torii Hunter when asked about his own success. Hunter has been a mentor to him, helping him game plan and answering his questions.

"I work with Torii every day," Hicks said. "I'm constantly in his ear."

But Hicks' success has more to do with himself than Hunter. After all, he's the one playing the game. In his first two seasons with the Twins, Hicks played a combined 150 games, hitting just .201/.293/.313. Now, the Twins are seeing a more aggressive, more confident player.

That turnaround, Hicks said, started last September.

"It's [when] I actually just started getting hits. It wasn't a battle to scratch out one hit," Hicks said. "Games just came by easier and I actually started to be able to understand what pitchers were trying to do to me and [make] a good game plan."

Despite that, Hicks started the season in Triple-A Rochester. He was called up in May but strained his forearm, forcing him onto the disabled list. When top prospect Byron Buxton was called up as the corresponding move, it complicated Hicks' role with the team.

Hicks' leaping catch

But Buxton, too, got injured in late June, spraining his thumb shortly after his call up. Since Hicks returned from a rehab assignment in early July, he's been on a month-long tear. Entering Friday, Hicks has hit .365 in the month of July, raising his season average up to .299 in 50 games.

Hicks, a switch-hitter, said he feels good on both sides of the plate, an understatement for a guy who had five straight multi-hit games coming into Friday. Hicks has responded no matter where manager Paul Molitor has put him in the lineup.

"He's been a common subject to talk about as of late and that's a good thing," Molitor said. "Alls you can say is that, here's a guy that's been given a few opportunities and it's taken him a little while to kind of embrace that and find a way to be able to go out there and produce consistently. I think he's just overflowing with confidence that he's going to contribute."

On Thursday, Hicks, 25, found himself intentionally walked to get to Joe Mauer, a player who has won three American League batting titles. Hicks shook his head and laughed about it Friday, saying it was something he never thought would happen, before admitting that it "did feel kind of cool."

But perhaps the most telling is that after three hits, the thing Hicks wanted to talk about after Friday's game was how he could improve.

"He didn't want to talk about his hits last night as much as what he could have done differently in his at-bat with the bases loaded when he struck out on a 3-2 changeup," Molitor said. "It's part of the maturity, and he's kind of looking at things everyday whether [he's] successful or whether it's maybe a failed at-bat, play or baserunning mistake, but he's trying to get better. He's really applying himself and preparing a lot better for giving himself a chance to have a good game."

And none of that, as Hicks has played his way into an everyday role, is lost on his mentor.

"He's applying a lot of things that we talked about," Hunter said. "He's applying it to his career. He's playing the game the right way, having great at-bats. I always thought he had a pretty good eye but he's starting to be a little more aggressive in those counts where you need to be aggressive, two balls no strikes, 3-1 count. Aaron Hicks has definitely turned a corner and I'm thinking he's starting to believe in his God-given ability."

Betsy Helfand is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.