Twins appear to have found the right 1-2 punch for top of the lineup
Batting behind MLB hitting leader Luis Arraez, Byron Buxton is hitting .375 with four homers, six runs and six RBIs
When asked Friday if he might ride what has been a potent one-two punch of Luis Arreaz and Byron Buxton at the top on the lineup, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, perhaps predictably, answered by praising all of his hitters.
“I feel like we can ride a bunch of guys in this lineup right now,” he said.
And, in fact, the manager broke up what has been a good daily double since it began popping up this month. Arraez was penciled into the leadoff spot against the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday, but Buxton was rested despite hitting five home runs in his past three games.
Certainly, it makes sense. Arraez leads all of baseball with a .360 batting average and .446 on-base percentage, and Buxton leads the Twins — and is tied for second in all of baseball — with 17 home runs.
“It’s kind of inspiring to watch him hit in front of you, to be honest,” Buxton said of Arraez before Saturday’s game. “He kind of gets me going, especially when he gets his little head shake going, you know?”
Buxton has batted second behind Arraez four times this month, hitting .375 with four home runs, six runs scored and six runs batted in. Arraez in those games batted .278 with three runs scored and two RBIs.
“Luis and Buck have been excellent,” Baldelli said. “I wouldn’t limit it to them, though.”
Before Saturday, Buxton had been the Twins’ leadoff hitter 36 times, Arraez 17. In those 17 games, Arraez hit .368 with a .463 on-base percentage.
“He’s locked in,” Buxton said. “It gets you going. You just admire what he’s doing and try to pick his brain a little bit.”
Although he hit five home runs in his three previous games, Buxton started Saturday on the bench, part of the team’s strategy to keep him healthy for an entire season.
Asked if he liked sitting during a hot streak, the center fielder said, “Obviously not, but it is what it is, you know?”
“The biggest thing,” he added, “is to get to the playoffs and get a ring. So, for me, what that consists of and how we get there is how we’ve got to do it.”
The numbers suggest something close to a full season of Buxton would be spectacular, which is why the Twins signed him to a seven-year, $100 million contract extension last November. Since last season — cut short by hip and hand injuries — Buxton has 38 homers and 62 RBIs in 104 games.
That pace at 162 games, already off the table this season, projects out to 56 home runs and 97 RBIs. Which raises the question: Does Buxton, whose speed on the base paths and in the outfield have been the most consistent part of his game since he was first called up in 2015, consider himself a power hitter?
The question made him wince a little.
“No, I don’t,” he finally said. “It’s me just trying to hit the ball in the gap. Power, honestly, when I was coming up I thought that was more for guys like (Miguel) Sano and Nellie (Cruz) — the bigger guys, you know? I was a line-drive hitter.
“So, for me, it was a mentality of ‘hit the ball to the wall, not over it.’ It just happens to be that with that same mentality, the balls are traveling better than I’m thinking (about).”
To make room for Saturday’s spot starter Chi Chi Gonzalez on the 26-player active roster, the Twins optioned right-hander Yennier Cano (1-0, 9.25 earned-run average) back to Class AAA St. Paul. To make room on the 40-man roster, shortstop Royce Lewis (knee) was moved to the 60-day injured list. Lewis will have season-ending knee surgery sometime in the next week or so. … After throwing 30 pitches in one inning with the Saints on Thursday, right-hander Josh Winder (shoulderI will be scheduled for another rehab start.
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