MINNEAPOLIS — There wasn’t much thought given to the Twins’ decision to have Max Kepler pinch-hit for Byron Buxton in the ninth inning of Wednesday night’s game against Milwaukee. The Twins trailed by seven runs and Buxton was in a 1-for-21 funk in the first six games of this seven-game home stand.
So was the Twins center fielder simply getting a break in a one-sided loss? We should have known better. Buxton, who has made seven trips to the injured list over the past three years and missed the first three games of the season because of a mid-left foot sprain suffered in summer camp, went on the 10-day injured list Thursday because of inflammation in his left shoulder.
Derek Falvey, the Twins’ president of baseball operations, said Buxton aggravated his shoulder diving into home plate on Tuesday to score the winning run in a 4-3, 12-inning victory over the Brewers at Target Field. Anything to do with Buxton’s left shoulder brings up concern that it might be related to the torn labrum he suffered last Aug. 1 while going into the wall trying to make a catch against the Marlins in Miami. That injury essentially ended Buxton’s season and required surgery.
“The big news, the positive news is we got a look at it from an imaging standpoint,” Falvey said. “His labrum … that whole area is in good shape. There’s no issue or any concern with that area. It’s really just some shoulder kind of muscle inflammation that is leading to some soreness. With his history, we just want to make sure we get this right. We thought the best thing to do would be to shut him down for a period of time and we’ll see how it progresses over the next few days.
While the labrum in Buxton’s shoulder is sound, Falvey made it clear this move is an attempt to make sure that remains the case. “When you have the surgery that he had, you’re gonna go through some ups and downs with some soreness in that general area,” he said. “That is not uncommon. I think in some ways while he’s dealing with soreness and has to go on the IL there’s nothing positive about that, but there are some positives we learned about it. This is not something we think will be a long-standing issue for him.”
The Twins certainly hope it isn’t but when it comes to Buxton any injury is cause for concern. He is in his sixth big-league season and has played in more than 100 games only once. Some of that was related to his production in the big leagues, but injuries also have played a major role. This pandemic-shortened season is only 60 games and Buxton is currently at 21 played.
Buxton is slashing .221/.225/.456 with five home runs and 12 RBIs and has struck out 20 times in 68 at-bats. He went 2-for-18 with no home runs and two RBIs in seven games to start the season but then got hot on the Twins’ most recent road trip, going 12-for-29 (.414/.414/.966) with five homers and eight RBIs in eight games. That success did not continue on this home stand, which wrapped up Thursday night.
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said he did not want to discuss Buxton’s mental state following his latest trip to the injured list but did say “he’s doing OK.”
“Buck is a very, very competitive guy,” Baldelli said. “There’s certainly frustration. How can there not be some frustration? It would be kind of odd if there wasn’t. … With the injury that he has gone through, and the procedure that’s he gone through (with the labrum), there are going to be times … everyone that deals with a procedure similar to this has ups-and-downs the following year. It’s not one of those types of procedures where once it’s done … you never feel it again at any point. It’s not one of those. It’s of those that there are going to be great weeks and weeks that are a little bit more difficult. He knows that. It doesn’t make it incredibly easy to accept, but he certainly understands that and he’s just going to get his work in. He never stops working. He’s a very motivated guy and he’ll be back and he’ll be back soon.”
Falvey remains optimistic about Buxton’s health, despite his latest setback.
“I think the good news on that, and I think we’ve seen it, is that I feel like he’s bounced back, physically, really well,” Falvey said. “We knew when the first spring training ended, he was just about to get into games (coming back from the labrum surgery). I know we’ve talked about this before, but we felt like physically, he was in a really good spot at that point. We shut down for a period of time, we made sure we knew what he was doing from an exercise standpoint. He was hitting when he was at home. And then when he got up to summer camp, he looked good coming in. He felt good.
“He unfortunately dealt with that foot injury when he went down in one of those intrasquad games, and that delayed us again, but we never at any point, throughout the course of that time and still to this day, feel any differently about how he’s recovered from the labrum. So this is more muscular in nature and because it’s in the similar area, I get the connection associated with it. But we don’t think this is something that’s going to track going forward. I feel really good about how he’s returned so far.”