BY JAKE DEPUE
BOSTON—Byron Buxton appears to have avoided serious injury.
A day after leaving the game in the first inning following a slide into second base that left Buxton slamming the ground in frustration and heading quickly to the clubhouse, the Twins reported there was nothing hugely alarming in Buxton’s post-game MRI results.
“Relatively positive news on Buck,” Manager Rocco Baldelli said pregame. “He had an MRI come back with no structural issues found. But we’re still going to take some time over the next couple of days to continue to assess him.”
It’s certainly good news for Buxton and the Twins, who were looking at the possibility of losing their superstar center fielder for an extended period of time if the MRI turned up anything significant. Fortunately for the Twins, that’s not the case.
Still, the Twins flew in one of their orthopedic surgeons, Dr. Corey Wulf, to examine Buxton, which Derek Falvey called a move made in the name of “continuity of care.” It makes sense to bring in someone who knows Buxton well, but also suggests there’s at least some lingering concern, even with the encouraging imaging.
Pregame, Falvey expressed relief about the MRI results, but suggested he felt relatively confident shortly after the play that it wasn’t a serious injury.
“Immediately, you’re thinking, ‘Oh boy, what just happened,’” said Falvey. “Now I will say, walking off under his own power, I thought maybe he just jammed something or he may have a sprain/contusion/bruise. The initial exam was positive. It didn’t feel like right away, unless we
were missing something, that it was something significant.”
Right now, it’s wait-and-see with Buxton, but the fact that they didn’t immediately make a roster move to replace him is perhaps the most encouraging sign. It seems unlikely we’ll see him again in Boston, but a return during the upcoming Kansas City series is possible.
If he does need a stint on the IL, the Twins may opt to call up another reliever in his place, with Nick Gordon and Max Kepler able to play center, and Kyle Garlick and Trevor Larnach good options at the corners.
Sonny Gray Leaves with hamstring tightness
With two outs in the second inning of Saturday’s game, starter Sonny Gray left the game after a short meeting on the mound with Rocco Baldelli and head trainer Michael Salazar. Gray surrendered a two-run home run to Alex Verdugo earlier in the inning, but nothing seemed obviously off during his time in the game.
“Second to last pitch I felt like a grab, I did a little stretch, I was like ‘How’d that feel?’, didn’t feel great. Next pitch, threw another slider to Dalbec, it was the same type of feeling, same type of stretch,” Gray said after the game. “Tomorrow morning will tell a lot on if it was something that was a little muscle cramp, a little muscle strain, or something more.”
Losing Gray for any length of time would be a blow for the Twins, obviously, though the fact that the injury’s not arm or shoulder related is a good sign. The Twins traded for Gray in March to add much needed stability to a young and, at the time of the trade, thin rotation. At his best, Gray is more than a mid-rotation veteran presence, but a borderline No. 1 with high strikeout stuff. Over the last three seasons in a hitter friendly park in Cincinnati, Gray had a 3.49 ERA and 10.6 K/9.
As it stands right now, Minnesota’s rotation features Joe Ryan, Gray, Bailey Ober, Chris Archer, Dylan Bundy and Chris Paddack. They could opt to go down to a five-man rotation if Gray needs to miss time, or insert rookie RHP Josh Winder to take his place.
Winder replaced Gray in Saturday’s game and pitched well, tossing 5.1 innings and surrendering two runs on an Alex Verdugo home run. He struck out two and walked one, using his offspeed pitches effectively. The Twins’ No. 7 prospect according to MLB.com, Winder would be one likely candidate to replace Gray in the rotation if Gray needed an IL stint and they wanted to stick with six starters.
Winder features a fastball that consistently sits in the mid-90s, a plus slider, and changeup. He has excellent command of all three pitches, issuing just 1.6 BB/9 last season between Double-A and Triple-A with a 10 K/9.
Slowed by a right-shoulder impingement that caused him to miss the last two months of the minor league season, Winder says he’s now fully healthy. “2020, not being able to play, then coming back throwing a ton, and kind of got off routine in July with the Futures game,” Winder said about the leadup to his injury. “It was more just getting off routine and tweaking a little something. I think we did a great job with the training staff towards the tail end of last year, down in Florida doing rehab, addressing a lot of the issues, then continuing to do that in offseason. Felt great once I got down to Florida [this season], haven’t had any setbacks.”
Winder’s spent the first week of the season adjusting to a role in the bullpen, after spending his entire career as a starter. Now, though, he may quickly return to that role in the big leagues, if Gray’s hamstring injury is serious enough to require a trip to the IL. Either way, the Twins hope Winder will be a rotation mainstay long-term. Whenever that happens, the mid-90s fastball is a good place to start, but he’ll need consistency from his offspeed stuff to get through Major League lineups a second and third time. His slider, he hopes, could serve as a difference-maker.
“It started out as a cutter my sophomore year in college, morphed into a slider over the past couple years of pro ball,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of work with the player development staff in the minor leagues with the Twins, just kind of optimizing that pitch, the movement, location all that stuff. Definitely kind of become my baby the past couple years. It’s been a really good pitch for me, really good weapon. I’ll use that a lot this year.”
It was a good pitch for Winder on Saturday in an impressive outing at Fenway Park under difficult conditions.