Minnesota Twins manager Rocco Baldelli knows what it’s like as well as anyone. He knows what it’s like to have all the talent in the world but to be forced off the field repeatedly by injuries out of his control. He knows what his star center fielder is going through.
Byron Buxton returned to the field to rejoin the Twins on Saturday after a strained right hip forced him out of action for six weeks. Three days later, Buxton suffered another injury — one that will keep him spectating for weeks again as he heals.
Buxton was hit on the left hand with a Tyler Mahle pitch during the fourth inning of Monday night’s game against the Cincinnati Reds, suffering a left hand fracture. The Twins placed him on the injured list Tuesday, recalling center fielder Gilberto Celestino from Triple-A.
It is yet another setback in a career of setbacks for Buxton, who is hitting .360 with 10 home runs in 27 games this season. In seven seasons with the Twins, Buxton has played more than 100 games only once — playing 140 in 2017 — because of various, usually unrelated, injuries.
As Buxton faces a long path of recovery, his manager, as much as anyone, can empathize. It’s a crushing blow for the team, but more than anything, for Buxton.
“He’s beyond upset, and that’s what I would expect from him,” Baldelli said Tuesday. “This is not something that’s easily described or talked about, I think, for anyone. I think the number of traumas, physically, that he’s had to deal with, and because of that, emotionally when you have to deal with that many types of things, difficult things, it’s hard on you.”
Baldelli knows the feeling too well. Like Buxton, he was a high first-round draft pick and a center fielder, too. During his playing days, Baldelli suffered a torn ACL and later injured his elbow, undergoing Tommy John surgery. He dealt with hamstring issues that kept him off the field, as well, and eventually retired at age 29, after being diagnosed with a mitochondrial disease.
At the time, Baldelli thought he knew how to deal with the injuries as they came his way. In actuality, he admitted, he was “probably very depressed,” often wanting to be left alone to deal with his injuries rather than having to discuss them every day.
So when Buxton suffered another setback on Monday, Baldelli felt it deeply.
“I think Buck and I understand each other very well, I’d say,” Baldelli said. “We know where each other is coming from. … There’s been ranges of conversations and emotions because a lot of the situations that he’s found himself in, we end up talking about a lot of things, both in baseball and outside baseball. I respect him as a human being. This isn’t about baseball.”
The Twins do not yet know what will come next for Buxton, whether the fracture will require surgery yet or not. That, Baldelli said, team physician Dr. Christopher Camp probably will have a better idea of in the coming days.
Baldelli said Buxton would be undergoing more tests “just so we can be even more definitive on what’s going on.” On Monday after the game, Baldelli called Buxton’s injury a “boxer’s fracture,” a break in a bone near the knuckle that typically occurs after hitting something (or someone) with a closed fist.
It’s yet another disappointing outcome for Buxton in a career that has been filled with all-too-many of them.
“The things that he’s had to deal with, that would put a lot of other people off to the side. I don’t know how some others would come back from this stuff. He’s dealt with it over and over again and he keeps coming back,” Baldelli said. “It’s impressive. … We wish we wouldn’t have to deal with these things, but Buck’s a guy that can deal with it. He may not feel like it at different times, but he certainly can.”