MINNEAPOLIS — The Twins will play Kansas City in their final home game of the regular season on Sunday and then have six games remaining before opening play in the American League Division series on Oct. 4. (Yes, we are assuming the Twins are going to win the AL Central.)
That means the clock is ticking on outfielder Max Kepler returning in a regular role before the playoffs begin. Kepler did not start for the seventh consecutive game on Saturday, but he did enter in the bottom of the eighth inning as a pinch-runner for Jason Castro. Manager Rocco Baldelli said beforehand that the team does not know when Kepler will be back in the starting lineup.
Kepler told Darren Wolfson of KSTP-TV on Friday that he is “making progress,” and added that his issue isn’t a shoulder injury, as has been reported, but rather a back problem.
Kepler has been shut down since playing in both games of the Twins’ doubleheader sweep last Saturday in Cleveland.
“We’re going to play it day-by-day. It’s kind of the way we’ve been playing it to this point,” Baldelli said. “He was out on the field just now, he was just running the bases. He could be an option to help us out in some other ways, even if he’s not playing in a full game right now. But we want to keep his legs moving in addition to everything else. He was out there shagging yesterday live, going after balls at full speed. He can do a bunch of different things. He’s just not at that point where we’re going to send him out there to play and get a bunch of at-bats right now.”
Kepler is hitting .252/.336/.519 with 36 home runs and 90 RBIs in 134 games this season. He has hit out of the leadoff spot in 105 games; catcher Mitch Garver is second with 24 games in the leadoff spot.
While the Twins would like to get Kepler back into regular action before the playoffs, they also are going to be very careful with him considering how important his presence will be in the postseason.
The Twins entered Saturday with a four-game lead on Cleveland in the AL Central and with their magic number at five. That means the Twins likely will clinch the division in the coming week at either Detroit or Kansas City.
Baldelli has little interest in discussing the postseason until that happens, although the Twins are beginning to make plans internally.
“I don’t hate talking about this stuff, but I think it’s irresponsible to talk about it publicly before we’ve actually accomplished any of it,” Baldelli said. “I would say there are probably a lot of discussions related to looking ahead. It’s certainly the organization’s responsibility to look ahead and talk about things internally. But I don’t think talking about them externally makes much sense. … (But) you have to think about things that are going to come up. You’d be underprepared if you didn’t.”
Baldelli was asked if pitcher Michael Pineda, currently serving a 60-game PED suspension, and center fielder Byron Buxton, out for the season after having shoulder surgery, will travel with the Twins so they can be present if and when the division is clinched.
“For our guys that have contributed towards everything that we’re doing here, I’d love for everyone to be involved in anything related to postseason baseball, if we were lucky enough to be there,” Baldelli said. ” … I’d certainly want them to take part in it. I personally don’t know if there’s any rules regarding Mike and everything going on with him. Probably something that if we can get closer to that point we’ll probably look into. But for the guys that have been here all year long, there contributions taken into account, they should be a part of what we do later on in the season.”
Pineda has remained around the Twins and is getting his work in early at Target Field before leaving.
SURGERY LIKELY FOR DYSON
Righthanded reliever Sam Dyson will fly to Los Angeles on Monday to see orthopedic specialist Dr. Neal ElAttrache and it’s expected he will undergo surgery soon thereafter. In fact, Dyson told KSTP-TV on Friday that ElAttrache already has told the team he expects he will have to operate.
“I think his original suggestion was that I would probably need surgery based on the injury itself,” Dyson said.
Dyson, 31, said he has tried throwing of late but can’t throw the ball 60 feet. “It’s not really a positive thing at this point, it’s not a particular part of the body that’s going to heal itself,” Dyson said. “Ligaments don’t really carry a blood supply.”
Dyson underwent an arthrogram on Sept. 5 and Twins head athletic trainer Tony Leo told the Star Tribune that the findings were consistent with a joint capsule sprain.
— Darren Wolfson (@DWolfsonKSTP) September 20, 2019
Dyson said he had been throwing “with a little bit of a should issue over the last two years, not really knowing what was going on.” That’s where it gets interesting because the Twins obtained Dyson from San Francisco at the July 31 trade deadline for three prospects.
Dyson was clearly bothered by the arm issue upon his arrival in Minnesota, despite the fact it was not disclosed. He gave up six runs in two-thirds of an inning in his first two appearances before going on the 10-day injured list because of biceps tendinitis. He returned to post a 2.53 ERA in 10 appearances with six holds before experiencing significant pain during a Sept. 3 outing in Boston. Dyson returned home ahead of the team to be examined.
“Over the second half of the season, I kind of had two instances where I couldn’t pick my arm up the next day, so the frustration level would just be based on the fact that I can’t compete with these guys day in, day out,” Dyson said. “As a bullpen guy, you want to be able to go every day.”
If ElAttrache’s name sounds familiar it’s because he’s the same doctor who recently operated on Buxton. Dyson will remain under team control for one more season. He is eligible for arbitration this winter after making $5 million in 2019.