Plouffe embraces cleanup role as lineup takes shape

Third baseman to bat fourth behind Dozier, Mauer and Sano

Plouffe embraces cleanup role as lineup takes shape

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Twins manager Paul Molitor said he's pretty much decided on the first four spots in the lineup to open the season: Brian Dozier will be his leadoff hitter, followed by Joe Mauer, Miguel Sano and Trevor Plouffe in that order.

Molitor said he wants to try to use his regular lineup during the last week of Spring Training. His potential lineup against left-handers was on display in the Twins' 3-0 win over the Pirates on Saturday, as that quartet was in place, followed by Byung Ho Park, Eddie Rosario, Eduardo Escobar, Kurt Suzuki and Byron Buxton. Park and Rosario, though, could be flip-flopped against right-handers. The Twins remain hopeful Buxton can take over as leadoff hitter once he gets more comfortable offensively.

But for now, Molitor said he wants Plouffe to be his cleanup hitter, and the third baseman, who led the club with a career-high 86 RBIs last year, said he's comfortable in that role. Plouffe made a team-high 68 starts as Minnesota's cleanup hitter last year. He hit two homers on Friday and followed that up with a two-run single against the Pirates in the fourth inning of Saturday's game.

Plouffe's two-homer game

"I don't think too much changes from the last couple years with [hitting coach Tom] Brunansky challenging me to be a run producer," Plouffe said. "That's going to be my job again this year. I think the way our lineup is set up we're going to have some opportunities to drive in some runs. Hitting behind those guys, they're going to be on base a lot. So hopefully I'll be able to drive them in most of the time."

Plouffe said he likes hitting behind Sano, who had a .385 on-base percentage as a rookie last year and led the team in seeing 4.34 pitches per plate appearance.

"I enjoy watching his at-bats," Plouffe said. "He's not an all-or-nothing kind of hitter. He has a solid approach and works counts and takes tough pitches. So I look forward to seeing his progression as he gets established."

Twins general manager Terry Ryan stays out of Molitor's lineup decisions, but he said he likes the look of Plouffe as the club's cleanup hitter. Plouffe, 29, hit .244/.307/.435 with 22 homers and 35 doubles last year.

"He's a veteran guy in that lineup, and he's always a threat to hit one out," Ryan said. "He's got a guy in front of him who is going to walk a lot. So we've got to have somebody behind Sano to make sure this guy gets something to hit. And Plouffe is about the ideal guy."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.