BOSTON — The frustration was evident as Byron Buxton slapped the ground in pain following an awkward slide into second base — and once again, the Twins’ superstar center fielder found himself exiting a game due to injury.
Buxton’s extensive injury history gained a new entry in Friday afternoon’s 8-4 Jackie Robinson Day win over the Red Sox at Fenway Park. Buxton led off the game with a popup double to left field that dropped between a trio of Boston defenders but immediately felt something wrong following his feet-first slide. He was forced to leave with right knee soreness, the Twins announced in the fourth inning on Friday, and they had no more immediate clarity on his condition following the game.
The Twins will wait to share a further update until they have the results of an MRI exam from Friday afternoon. Manager Rocco Baldelli did not give an indication as to whether the center fielder will require a stint on the injured list.
“He was on his feet,” Baldelli said. “He was walking around, so that’s probably the extent of what I know. We’re going to learn a lot more today and going forward. I wish I had more to give you, but right now, I don’t.”
It looked concerning in the moment. Buxton didn’t even wait for Baldelli and head athletic trainer Michael Salazar to check on him at second base; Buxton stood up and immediately began walking off the field under his own power. Nick Gordon replaced him on the basepaths and in center field.
The injury put a damper on an otherwise impressive victory in which Opening Day starter Joe Ryan struck out seven and allowed one run in six innings, generating a career-high 19 swings and misses with an unusually slider-centric game plan. Luis Arraez, Gary Sánchez and Miguel Sanó each drove in multiple runs as the Twins chased Boston starter Nick Pivetta after two frames.
Buxton was 6-for-24 (.250) with three homers, three doubles and a stolen base at the time of this injury, already having become one of three players in Twins history with three homers within the club’s first three games of a regular season during last week’s season-opening homestand at Target Field.
After he agreed to a seven-year, $100 million contract extension with the Twins during the offseason, Buxton was hoping that his offseason work with a nutritionist to modify his diet to limit soreness and inflammation between games would help him stay on the field and build on his MVP-caliber performance when healthy from ‘21, when he hit .306/.358/.647 with a career-high 19 homers in 61 games.
“I’m really sad because I don’t want to see my boy get an injury,” Sanó said. “Buck is one of the best players we have on the team. When that guy’s on the field, everything is different for us. He’s a great person, great teammate, great player and everything. I hope he doesn’t have anything bad and he comes back soon.”
Buxton was kept off the field for much of last season by a fractured left hand due to a hit-by-pitch and a right hip strain sustained while running the bases. Recurring left shoulder issues after running into the outfield wall in Miami cost him chunks of ‘19 and ‘20, and a mixture of groin, thumb, big toe, migraine and wrist issues allowed him to play more than 92 games in only one of his seven big league seasons entering ‘22.
This could be the second blow to the Twins’ outfield in three days, following the placement of starting left fielder Alex Kirilloff on the 10-day IL on Wednesday with right wrist soreness. Gordon and Max Kepler are both capable of playing center field, and Gordon did so for 34 games last season when the Twins’ outfield depth was decimated. There aren’t any more outfielders on the 40-man roster who could take Buxton’s roster spot if he were to require an IL stint.
Trevor Larnach figures to play every day for now, but he can’t play center. Gilberto Celestino can, but he doesn’t appear ready for an everyday role in the big leagues. It could be telling that Jake Cave was scratched from the Triple-A St. Paul lineup shortly after Buxton’s departure from Friday’s game, though the Twins would need to clear a spot on the 40-man roster to add Cave.
Perhaps it won’t come to that – but the Twins will have to first wait and see what the test results hold.
“We’re going to wait and see what we find out, probably take a minute and take a deep breath, see where we’re at and then make a call,” Baldelli said.