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Waiting game: Twins hoping Byron Buxton, Josh Donaldson will be ready for playoffs

Byron Buxton
Minnesota Twins’ Byron Buxton lies on the ground after being hit by a pitch from Cincinnati Reds’ Lucas Sims during the eighth inning of a baseball game Friday, Sept. 25, 2020, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

MINNEAPOLIS — Center fielder Byron Buxton and third baseman Josh Donaldson were both out of the Twins’ lineup for Saturday’s game against Cincinnati, a day after being forced from the field because of injury. The question now is whether one or both will be able to return for the start of the Twins’ best-of-three playoff series on Tuesday?
At this point, that’s a guessing game for team officials.
Buxton, who was hit in the head by a pitch from Reds reliever Lucas Sims in the eighth inning, experienced what Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey called “symptoms consistent with a mild concussion.” Donaldson, who departed after one inning because of cramping in his right calf, arrived at Target Field on Saturday afternoon, “feeling better,” and was getting treatment, according to Falvey.
It appears unlikely that either player will see in action in the Twins’ final two regular-season games against the Reds on Saturday or Sunday. Buxton and Donaldson’s presence in the lineup and on the field is key to the team’s chances in the postseason and both injuries are concerning given the players’ history.
Buxton, the best defensive center fielder in the big leagues, has made nine trips to the injured list since arriving in Minnesota in 2015. That does not include his time on the injured list in the minor leagues. He also is no stranger to concussion issues.
Buxton was placed on the concussion list in July of last season after making a head-first diving catch in Cleveland. He also suffered a concussion in 2014 in his first game with the Twins’ Double-A affiliate when he collided with right fielder Mike Kvasnicka. Buxton was down for approximately 10 minutes and was taken off the field in an ambulance.
While concussion symptoms are hard to predict, Falvey was optimistic about Buxton being available for the Twins’ playoff opener. “I think we’re optimistic about (his availability) because the symptoms check off as mild,” Falvey said. “There’s a set of check points that you look at and he has only has a few of them that are consistent with a mild concussion. The process from this point forward is he’s got to go down to zero of those symptoms and, once you get to that point, you feel like you’re in a good spot. We just need to see how that goes over the next couple of days. But I’m optimistic right now.”
Falvey said Buxton was in the Twins’ clubhouse before Saturday’s game and that he will be assessed again on Sunday. Buxton is slashing .254/.267/.577 with 13 homers and 27 RBIs in 39 games this season. He has hit those 13 home runs in 130 at-bats and had eight of them since Sept. 7.
Donaldson, who signed a four-year, $92 million free agent deal with the Twins last winter, has dealt with calf issues since 2017 and admitted on social media earlier this season that he has torn, “both of my calves a total of seven times in two years.” That came right before Donaldson missed 30 games because of a right calf strain suffered in late July. He entered Friday hitting .225/.376/.475 with six homers and 11 RBIs in 27 games and popped to second in his only at-bat in the bottom of the first inning before being replaced.
“He has a history there (with calf injuries), even just this year, so when he had that symptom and that issue we wanted to make sure he went home, kind of took good care of it last night, treated it last night,” Falvey said. “He came in and the first time I saw him was when he walked into Rocco (Baldelli’s) office and he was bouncing around like he normally would. There were no real signs or symptoms, if you just watched him walk around. I think the key here, though, is we’re going to treat it a little carefully because we want to try to get him ready for Tuesday. We’ll find a way over the next day or so to assess it, but he was definitely going to be down today. We felt that last night so nothing changed that opinion coming into today.”
The Twins also made a couple of roster moves on Saturday, reinstating second baseman Luis Arraez (knee and ankle) from the injured list and recalling lefthander Devin Smeltzer. Arraez missed 14 games because of tendinitis in his left knee and then rolled his ankle during his rehab stint at the Twins’ alternate training site in St. Paul. He is hitting .288/.336/.337 with 10 RBIs in 30 games this season.
Smeltzer, who had been on the Twins’ taxi squad, has appeared in seven games this season and is 2-0 with a 6.75 ERA. The Twins made room for Arraez and Smeltzer by optioning righthanded pitcher Edwar Colina and outfielder LaMonte Wade Jr. The hard-throwing Colina made his big-league debut on Friday and gave up three runs on four hits in one-third of an inning.