December 5, 2022

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Buxton hits 11th homer as Twins navigate plan for CF

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MINNEAPOLIS — The Twins would obviously love for Byron Buxton to get back to a place where he’s healthy enough to hit leadoff and play center field every day. He’s just not there yet as he works his knee back to full strength — but that doesn’t mean he can’t contribute to this team winning games.

That’s why manager Rocco Baldelli and the Twins have been consistently mixing in full days of rest and recovery for their superstar center fielder this month — and that’s why they’ll continue to do so for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, Buxton is still taking advantage of the opportunities he does get to contribute — and he did so again with his 11th homer of the season in Minnesota’s 3-1 victory over the Guardians at Target Field on Sunday.

“For me, as long as I can play and get out there to contribute and help the team out, that’s what I’m willing to do,” Buxton said. “Some days are better than others, but that’s baseball. That’s your body.”

Sometimes, that means that Buxton will be sidelined altogether and not available off the bench, as was the case in the Twins’ 3-2 loss to the Guardians in 10 innings on Saturday. He’d also been sidelined for five innings of Thursday’s resumption of the suspended game on Wednesday as he dealt with both the right knee and mild hip tightness he sustained while running the bases the previous Saturday.

Buxton does understand why all of this is happening and is accepting of it, as he said following Sunday’s game.

“We’ve got a process, a process of me staying on the field, trying to play 100 games,” Buxton said. “So however that looks, who knows? But that’s what we have, a plan here, and it’s what we’re going to stick to. Whatever else, outside of that, kind of doesn’t really matter to us. It’s all about winning.”

That doesn’t mean that Buxton is happy about sitting out games, obviously. He’s a fierce competitor who wants to be out there with his teammates. Think back to September 2019, when he couldn’t swing due to a torn labrum in his left shoulder, but still tried to soldier through five games as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement to help the Twins in their playoff push before finally submitting to a season-ending surgery.

Baldelli noted that he will get push-back and slight exaggerations from Buxton as the center fielder tries to talk himself onto the field on those days — and though he won’t be swayed by such considerations, that’s what he wants to see.

“[He’s] not always happy when I talk to him about it and we keep him out of the lineup,” Baldelli said. “He honestly wants to play every single day. That’s his mentality and I love that mentality. I want our guys to want to play and be out there. I’d rather rip a guy off the field than have to push him on the field all the time.”

Here’s the reality of the situation, though: Both Baldelli and Buxton have indicated that the right knee soreness that first flared up on a feet-first slide in Boston on April 15 is still something he’s having to manage. At the same time, it’s clearly something that’s not stopping him from being effective, and it doesn’t appear to be something that’s going to resolve itself in a matter of days with some rest.

So instead of having Buxton not available at all while on the injured list or pushing him too hard on a mending knee and risking losing him for a longer stretch, the Twins are carefully navigating an in-between solution. Baldelli says that the coaching staff, training staff and medical staff work with Buxton to determine these schedules on a series-by-series basis.

And even having appeared in only 16 of the Twins’ 29 games since that game at Fenway Park, Buxton’s 369-foot homer off Triston McKenzie on Sunday still brought him to within one of the MLB lead held by Aaron Judge.

This is their plan, and they’re going to stick with it until he’s healed and he can be full-go again. And both sides are looking forward to that day.

“The reality of it is, he’s dealing with something, and he continues to deal with it,” Baldelli said. “And it’s getting better, I believe, but it’s not going to be immediate. There’s no quick fix here.”

“You have to listen to your body, and that’s something I’m starting to do a little bit more, which has allowed me to stay on the field longer,” Buxton said. “So just trust in the process and keep doing what we’re doing.”

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