On April 13th at Target Field, Aaron Hicks went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, dropping his batting average to .047. It was the seventh time in 10 major-league games that he'd notched multiple strikeouts, and in total the rookie had whiffed in a whopping 43 percent of his plate appearances.
With the season two weeks old, even Hicks' most staunch supporters were facing the reality that his struggles amounted to more than a mere slump. He was overwhelmed and his issues at the plate were compounding rather than clearing.
At this point the Twins had begun feeling pressure to make a move of some kind ("I'll let you know when we do that," Ron Gardenhire told an inquiring reporter
, "so you don't have to ask every day anymore"), and surely they were weighing their options. Ultimately, they decided to stick with Hicks, albeit while sliding him down in the batting order, and it sounds like the decision was heavily influenced by another ambitious rookie -- first-year hitting coach Tom Brunansky.
When Gardenhire told Pioneer Press reporter Mike Berardino of the decision to keep Hicks around
, Berardino inferred that "Brunansky lobbied hard to keep working with [Hicks]." Said Gardenhire
: "Talking with Brunansky, his feeling is he wants to work with this kid. He believes he can get him right. I'm with Tom."
That's pretty bold for Bruno, who's still in his first few weeks on the job as a major-league hitting coach. Hicks appeared totally lost in the woods, which is not necessarily shocking for a 23-year-old straight out of Double-A, prompting many to believe he should spend some time in Rochester.
Of course, Brunansky knows a little bit about fast rises. In his playing career, he rocketed through the minors and was an effective full-time big-leaguer by the age of 21. His coaching career has followed a similarly steep ascent; he rejoined the Twins organization as a rookie-league hitting instructor in 2010, and has climbed from there to Double-A to Triple-A to the majors within a span of three years.
Perhaps, through that experience, Brunansky can offer some perspective to the discombobulated Hicks. Whatever they're doing right now, it seems to be helping. In four games since the three-strikeout performance against the Mets, the center fielder has drawn six walks, and he hadn't struck out until fanning on a full count in his fourth trip on Sunday. There's been a visible and dramatic improvement in his previously broken plate approach, and if he can keep it up, his slump-busting RBI single will only be the start of a full-fledged turnaround.
Presently he's still hitting .059, but Hicks is seeing the ball better, working into favorable counts and heading to the box with more confidence. If sustained, those trends will lead to a rapid rise in his batting average. With a little help, he seems to be finding his way.