Byron Buxton starts his spring with a bang, will settle strictly into a DH role to start the season
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Byron Buxton announced his arrival at spring training on Tuesday with a loud bat crunch, firing a brace off the right center field wall in his first plate appearance in a practice game spring of the major leagues this season.
Carlos Correa homered two-run left on the next at-bat, and the duo put the Twins ahead 2-0 in the first inning. Perhaps the first of many back-to-back successes for the pair.
“I felt good when he started with that double. I was like, ‘Okay, here we go. It’s like the regular season is all over again,'” Correa said. “Yeah, I was definitely excited to see him back there.”
While the Twins were thrilled that Buxton, relieved after offseason knee surgery, returned to the batting order on Tuesday, that’s all they’ll see for the remainder of spring training and the opening of the regular season.
Apologies for delving into another sport’s lexicon, but it looks like the Twins will be practicing load management with their All-Star center fielder throughout the regular season. Especially during the first few weeks.
“He’s going downhill at the start of the year,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He goes to DH and will go out and be in the roster as our DH the vast majority of the time. Him in the roster excites me. That’s what I want and that’s what our medical staff [wants] and that’s what Buck has been working towards all spring.”
Buxton hasn’t played 100 games in a season since 2017, when he played 140. Despite all his off-season work and planning by the Twins, he only played 92 games last season, a season that ended in August due to a hip. strain. He underwent right knee arthroscopy after the season. Over the past four seasons, the Twins are 166-113 in games he appears in.
“What we’re trying to do is get a full season of games and batting attacks out of Buck,” Baldelli said. “because we’re a different team when he’s out there and healthy and playing.”
Meanwhile, Joey Gallo started at first base Tuesday in the Twins’ 5-2 win over Tampa Bay. He might be needed to play there if Alex Kirilloff isn’t ready after wrist surgery.
Jorge Polanco’s availability for the season opener is already in doubt. Polanco battled tendonitis in his left knee late last season and is resting at camp. With opening day a week away, Polanco doesn’t have enough time to get enough matches and board appearances to be ready.
That means Kyle Farmer, who the Twins traded in the offseason, could be used there. Donovan Solano and Nick Gordon can also play there.
The Twins had a whopping 32 players on injured reserve last season, and some of those injuries linger through 2023. In Buxton’s case, they wish he could play in a rubber uniform.
The Twins’ approach to the offseason included adding players who gave them a better chance of absorbing absences than they did a year ago.
“When you go through periods like we did last year and you see the depth erode, some of them can’t be planned perfectly,” chief baseball officer Derek Falvey said. . “But every year we try to figure out, especially when we feel like we have a talented roster and a deeper roster, how you complement that roster with really good fits.
“Whenever you can give a regular [a day] and hook up a guy who in the situation is almost as good as this regular you’re not necessarily pulling a bench player to get a couple hundred plate appearances for you over the course of a season . You have a chance to win a few more games.”
This offseason, it seemed like Falvey wasn’t just buying or trading players off the bench, he was looking for insurance.
The Kansas City opening day lineup could include Gallo at start for Kirilloff, Gordon at second for Polanco, Farmer at third for sore-shouldered Jose Miranda, Michael A. Taylor at center for Buxton and Trevor Larnach at left for Gallo .
A regular-season pitch hasn’t kicked off yet, and Falvey is already filing insurance claims.
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