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Twins carefully manage Byron Buxton’s playing time as outfielder deals with knee issue

Buxton has avoided the injured list this season thus far, but, including Sunday’s game, has played in just 23 of the team’s 35 games.

MLB: Cleveland Guardians at Minnesota Twins
Minnesota Twins center fielder Byron Buxton (25) reacts with third base coach Tommy Watkins (40) after hitting a home run off Cleveland Guardians starting pitcher Triston McKenzieon Sunday during the fifth inning at Target Field in Minneapolis<br/>
Jeffrey Becker / USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — It’s no secret the Twins are a better team when Byron Buxton is on the field.

So when they lost a close game on Saturday night and Buxton remained on the bench throughout, it drew the ire of a fanbase eager to see the team’s star player have an opportunity to contribute in an important moment.

Twins manager Rocco Baldelli certainly understands that. But these moves, he said, are done to safeguard the health of the Buxton, the team’s most important player, who has been playing through a right knee issue since April, and more recently, a mild right hip strain.

“Trying to keep guys as healthy as possible for 162 games and get the absolute most out of them can be challenging, and it’s more of a long game than anything else. It doesn’t always feel satisfying on a day-to-day basis,” Baldelli said. “There are frustrations from us, fans, the players themselves who want to be out there every day, but sometimes the decisions that are made are not fun or easy to make but we have to make them.”

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Buxton has avoided the injured list this season thus far, but, including Sunday’s game, has played in just 23 of the team’s 35 games due in large part to the knee issue, which the Twins have been managing with selective scheduled days off.

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After aggravating the knee on a slide in Boston on April 15, Buxton missed the next five games. Since then, the Twins have exercised caution with him both to manage the soreness and to ensure that he’ll be on the field as much as possible.

“This isn’t just kind of pre-emptive or however you want to describe it,” Baldelli said. “This is something we’re reacting to. It’s something that he’s been dealing with since the first week of the season and something that he’s playing through. All the things that he’s doing out there right know, all the amazing things that he’s doing, he’s doing while dealing with a pretty serious issue with his knee.”

Baldelli said Buxton is still dealing with some swelling in his knee and said the injury something that he “cannot play through and play every day.” In order to get him back to full strength or near it, Baldelli said they must build in these days off.

The manager said it’s his hope that they don’t have to do this the whole year — in addition to having scheduled days off, Buxton has also had days where he’s served as the team’s designated hitter — but for right now, it’s “what we have to do.”

“It’s in consultation with him and the training staff, medical staff, just trying to see exactly where he’s at on a given day,” Baldelli said. “He’ll certainly, I’ve said there are mistruths that he’ll tell sometimes with a smile on his face, too. He’ll try to fight his way into the lineup on days when he shouldn’t be, but we’ll try to work through that.”

Briefly

Baldelli said there is no hard timeline for Carlos Correa’s (finger) return, but they’re “starting to really narrow in on this upcoming week for hopefully a return.” … Baldelli said Kyle Garlick (calf) is expected to meet the team in Oakland after completing his rehab assignment. … Baldelli suggested Dylan Bundy (COVID-19) would be piggybacked his first game back after recovering from the coronavirus. That game is likely to come in Oakland this week.

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