Will Byron Buxton play in the field this season? ‘I don’t think anyone truly knows’
Hip and knee injuries limited him to 92 games in 2022, and his season was over on Aug. 22.
MINNEAPOLIS -- It was Byron Buxton jersey day at Target Field on Saturday, and fans who came to the park were able to watch the Minnesota Twins star bat at the designated hitter.
Twenty games into the 2023 season, one of baseball’s best outfielders has yet to step on the grass for anything other than pregame drills. Are the Twins really going DH Buxton all season?
“I don’t know what I’m doing,” he said before Saturday’s 1:10 p.m. first pitch against Washington. “One day at a time.”
Buxton was penciled in as the leadoff hitter against the Nationals on Saturday, hitting his third home run of the season. Hip and knee injuries limited him to 92 games in 2022, and his season was over on Aug. 22.
It’s not a surprise that the Twins are being cautious with Buxton, who signed a seven-year, $100 million contract extension before the 2022 season. Plagued by injuries, he has played 100 games only once in his career, 140 in 2017, but was the American League’s starting center fielder in last July’s All-Star Game. Michael A. Taylor, a veteran Gold Glove winner acquired in a trade with Kansas City, has been the Twins’ center fielder so far this season.
Buxton, the majors’ 2017 defensive player of the year, acknowledged Saturday that he misses playing defense, adding, “But as long as I’m playing, that don’t faze me.”
That was essentially manager Rocco Baldelli’s take when asked if Buxton, 29, would ever play center field this season.
“I don’t think anyone truly knows the answer to the question,” the manager said “I am enjoying the fact that I get to write his name in the lineup virtually every day right now. And at this point, I’m not going to do anything to jeopardize that, because I think that’s the most important thing.”
In 52 career games as a DH, Buxton is hitting .233 with a .466 slugging percentage. As a center fielder, he has hit .245 with a .472 slugging percentage, which is somewhat deceiving because before this season, the Twins generally DH’d Buxton when he wasn’t feeling great.
“I wouldn’t say comfortable (as a DH),” Buxton said. “It’s still a job that’s not normal for me. It’s still something I’m figuring out.”
Bailey Ober will make the spot start as the Twins try to avoid being swept in Sunday’s 1:10 p.m. series finale. It will be the first major league appearances this season for the right-hander who was 2-3 with a 3.21 earned-run average in 11 big league starts last season, and nearly made the Twins out of camp.
He was scheduled to pitch at Class AAA St. Paul on Sunday at CHS Field. The Twins will make at least a corresponding move on Sunday, likely sending right-hander Simeon Woods Richardson back to the Saints. Woods-Richardson pitched 4⅔ innings on Saturday, surrendering five earned runs on seven hits and three walks. He struck out five.
North St. Paul graduate Louie Varland made the Twins’ first spot start this season, a victory at Yankee Stadium last week, and Brent Headrick was recalled to pitch in Boston, where he earned a three-inning save in his big-league debut, and is still with the team.
The spot starts this week were ordered to give the Twins rotation an extra day of rest, and Baldelli expects that to continue.
“We’re almost looking to get them up here and get them inserted,” he said. “Get everyone else an extra day, things like that. There’s a real benefit to that over the course of the season, and knowing that you get to turn to those guys and look to them, I think it works out good.”
Kenta Maeda, hit in the left ankle by a ball batted 111 mph in an 11-5 loss at Boston, was scheduled to throw a little on Saturday and have a bullpen session on Monday before the Twins decide whether he needs a stint on the injured list.
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