After missing a couple games due to the birth of his child, Josh Willingham returned to the Twins lineup on Sunday and immediately made his presence felt, delivering a two-run triple in his first at-bat to set the tone in a 7-4 Twins victory.
Willingham finished the day 3-for-5 with a double and a single in addition to the three-bagger, raising his OPS to an eye-popping 1.163.
The left fielder has hit safely in 17 of 19 games as a Twin while collecting more extra-base hits (13) than singles (11). He has already hit three balls out of Target Field. He has absolutely obliterated left-handed pitching – he's slugging .863 against southpaws after jumping all over Bruce Chen on Sunday – making him an ideal fit between Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.
In short, Willingham has thus far been every bit the hitter that the Twins were hoping for, and he's quickly making people forget about the man he was signed to replace.
Sure, Michael Cuddyer's grin is missed around the ballpark, and he's off to a nice start in Colorado, hitting .289/.349/.500 with eight doubles and a pair of homers. But Willingham's first month as a Twin, which won't be complete until the finish of Monday night's game in Los Angeles, matches up favorably against any month Cuddyer had during his 11-year tenure in Minnesota. Consider that Cuddy never posted a monthly OPS above 1.047 (that mark was recorded in May of 2009), which is more than 100 points short of where Willingham currently sits.
Of course, plenty of caveats apply to the new outfielder's phenomenal April. It's been a particularly small sample size, even for a single month, at just 19 games and 81 plate appearances. He's also a traditionally quick starter with a history of slowing down as the season progresses, so we'll surely see a few slumps come along to even things out.
For now, though, Willingham is erasing any concerns that existed about his age, his health and his ability to hit for power in the new home park. His consistency has been a breath of fresh air for a team that hasn't seen much. In a season where plenty has gone wrong, I'm happy to embrace one of the few things that's gone completely right.