Willingham ties Kirby with 15-game hit streak

Willingham ties Kirby with 15-game hit streak

Willingham ties Kirby with 15-game hit streak
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Twins couldn't get much going offensively against Rays starter James Shields on Saturday night, but Josh Willingham still managed to etch his name into Minnesota's record books.

With his leadoff single in the ninth inning, Willingham extended his season-opening hitting streak to 15 games. He improved upon the record he set Friday night, the longest hitting streak by a player to start his Twins career. And he tied Kirby Puckett's 1994 Twins record for the longest season-opening hitting streak.

"He just keeps getting it done. He keeps getting his hits and keeps driving in runs," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We're lucky to have gotten him over here on this ballclub off the market, and we look for him to do a lot of good for us. He's already doing a lot of good."

Willingham is batting .339 (19-for-56) this year with four doubles, five homers, 12 RBIs and six walks. His on-base percentage is .431, and his slugging percentage is .679.

Signed to a three-year, $21 million deal this offseason, Willingham was expected to help bolster a Twins offense that scored 619 runs in 2011, ranking 13th among 14 American League teams.

He's held up his end of the bargain, leading the team in nearly every offensive category through 15 games. Enough to surprise Gardenhire? Not quite.

"You never know until the season starts, but we liked him when he was against us. I don't really try to set expectations on how you start a season or whatever, but it's been fun to watch up to this point," Gardenhire said Saturday afternoon. "He's a strong young man, and he puts a lot of really good swings out there and has come up with a lot of big hits for us.

"I don't know if I'm surprised, because I saw him do it against us, and all the things I'd heard and all the things I'd seen told me that he was a really good baseball player that was going to drive in a lot of runs and probably hit the ball in the seats a few times, too. I don't think he's let us down on any part of that up to this point."

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.