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Designated sitter: Twins focused on getting Nelson Cruz healthy for playoffs

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Minnesota Twins’ Nelson Cruz celebrates his solo home run against the Kansas City Royals during the fourth inning of a baseball game Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

MINNEAPOLIS — Nelson Cruz received attention Tuesday night in the home dugout at Target Field for draping his personalized Twins bathrobe on players who hit home runs in a 5-4, 10-inning victory over the Tigers. Josh Donaldson had bought the robes for his teammates, and Cruz’s idea to use his as in-game entertainment provided a few laughs. He did the same on Wednesday night after three more Twins hit home runs in a 7-6 win over the Tigers.
Lost in the amusement was the fact that the 40-year-old Cruz has had time to award the robe. That is no laughing matter.
Cruz was a spectator for the fourth consecutive game because of what the Twins are calling a sore right knee. Cruz, who made an appearance on ESPN’s telecast of the Twins-Cubs game on Sunday night, called it a hamstring issue. Whatever is bothering Cruz, the Twins need to get him healthy before the best-of-three wild card round begins next week.
Cruz, the Twins’ designated hitter, has put himself in the AL MVP discussion this season with his performance at the plate. He is slashing .314/.403/.623 with 16 home runs and 32 RBIs in 50 games, leading the Twins in all of those categories except for RBIs.
“One thing we’re going to do — I think we made it very clear — we’re not going to put one game ahead of the ability of our guys to take the field going forward,” Baldelli said. “One thing that we do know for sure is we need our guys next week to be at 100 percent. Whatever we have to do to make sure that they are 100 percent for the first playoff game, that’s going to come first.”
In his second season as the Twins’ manager, Baldelli has proven he will put rest above nearly everything else when it comes to his players. But Baldelli finds himself in an interesting situation this week. He wants to get his players as healthy as possible for the postseason, but also knows the importance of the Twins’ final three games.
The Twins’ victory on Wednesday put them a half-game ahead of the White Sox in the AL Central and in the No. 3 seed in the AL. Chicago entered the day leading the division, but lost on a walk-off hit for a second consecutive game at Cleveland as Jordan Luplow hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth. Instead of facing the fifth-seeded Yankees in the opening round of the playoffs, the Twins (35-22) currently would play host to the sixth-seeded Astros next week. (The A’s beat the Dodgers late Wednesday, bumping the Twins from the second to the third seed.)
The Twins and White Sox likely will continue to jockey for position in the coming days and the Indians are only 2.5 games out of first. The White Sox will play in Cleveland again on Thursday — the Twins will have an off day — and then will have three games against the Cubs this weekend. The Twins will close with three games at home against Cincinnati.
The Yankees lost 14-1 to the Blue Jays on Wednesday but it’s likely the Twins would prefer to avoid New York in the first round. Thirteen of the Twins’ MLB-record 16 consecutive playoff losses have come against New York, including a three-game sweep by the Yankees last season in the ALDS.
As far as the injury concerns facing Baldelli, they extend beyond Cruz. Second baseman Luis Arraez, already on the injured list because of tendinitis in his left knee, rolled his ankle working out at the Twins’ alternate training site in St. Paul and will be out longer than expected. Shortstop Jorge Polanco returned to the lineup on Wednesday after missing a game because of a sore ankle.
“It’s something he’s been dealing with for an extended period of time,” Baldelli said. “He’s been playing through a lot of things. It’s been a little tough for Polo to play through it at times, but I also compliment him, as I normally do, and I’ve said this before, ‘When other guys have been hurt and missed time and things like that, Polo just keeps playing.’ He deals with things constantly, maybe you notice them sometimes, maybe we don’t. But, believe me, this guy plays through pretty much anything. When we know that he was still feeling a little sore after the off days, it’s really not a little sore, it was a little more sore than that.”
The Twins also are hoping to get starter Jake Odorizzi back from his third stint on the IL this season. This time he has been dealing with a blister on the middle finger of his right (pitching) hand. The Twins got another scare in the top of the second inning on Wednesday when Miguel Sano had his left wrist bent back by the Tigers’ Eric Haase as he tried to catch a throw from starter Kenta Maeda. Sano slammed his right hand on the infield dirt after the play and appeared to be in pain, but he was able to stay in the game.
“If we’re able to get (the injured players) on the field sooner than later, they’re going to play,” Baldelli said. “We’re going to put these guys out there, we’re going to get them their at-bats. But I don’t want anything to get in the way of making sure that they’re going to be ready to go (next week).”