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Zulgad’s Roundup: Twins manager isn’t concerned about Byron Buxton’s cold stretch

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Oakland Athletics
May 16, 2022; Oakland, California, USA; Minnesota Twins center fielder Byron Buxton (25) before the game against the Oakland Athletics at RingCentral Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Byron Buxton scalded a couple of balls on Thursday night against Kansas City at Target Field, but it took an infield dribbler toward first in the ninth inning for the center fielder to break an 0-for-30 slump. Buxton dived head first into the bag and was slow to get up after pitcher Scott Barlow failed to handle first baseman Carlos Santana’s hurried throw.

“I think he’s fine,” manager Rocco Baldelli said following the Twins’ 3-2 loss to the Royals. “He was shook up a little bit. Those head-first slides into first base, they are never the greatest thing and you don’t like to see them, if you don’t have to see them. I think he’s OK, but we’ll check on him.”

The hit was Buxton’s first since May 16 and broke a six-game streak without one. That was the longest hitless streak by a Twins player since Oswaldo Arcia went 0-for-31 from June 11-22, 2014. Although Buxton has been hitting the ball hard at times during his slump, you have to wonder if he’s bothered by either the chronic right knee problem that has caused the Twins to give him frequent days off, or even a hip issue that caused him to miss games earlier this season?

Buxton was slashing .278/.342/.722 with nine home runs and 17 RBIs in his first 19 games when he departed a May 7 contest against Oakland because of tightness in his hip. Buxton missed the next two games — there was an off day in between — before he returned on May 11 against Houston.

He entered Thursday in a 3-for-42 funk and was hitting .071/.184/.214 with two home runs and four RBIs in his past 11 games. He then went 1-for-5 against the Royals. Buxton’s slash line has fallen to .202/.278/.521 with 11 home runs and 21 RBIs. Not exactly the stuff of a guy many thought might be a potential MVP candidate earlier this season.

“I want to play. I want to contribute to the team,” Buxton said after a 10-inning loss to the Tigers on Wednesday. “So, I have to make better at-bats, get on base and just try to get more runs across for my teammates. I’m really not thinking too much about (the knee).”

Perhaps the best sign on Thursday was that Buxton hit a ball hard to third in the fourth inning and then lined a shot to left in the seventh on which the Royals’ Andrew Benintendi made a nice running catch toward the line. Those are the types of hits that fall when things are going well.

“When you’re hitting the ball hard, like he’s hitting it, you’re going to end up with a lot of doubles and homers,” Baldelli said. “You’re going to help your team win a lot of games, if you’re swinging the bat like he’s swinging it right now. The hits will come.”

  • The Twins are in the midst of a 21-game stretch against opponents that are below .500. It started with a three-game series that opened on May 13 against Cleveland (18-23) and included series’ at Oakland (19-28) and Kansas City (15-28), followed by the Tigers (16-28) and Royals at Target Field. Minnesota will then play five games at Detroit next week before opening a three-game series in Toronto (24-20). The AL Central-leading Twins are 9-4 in the first 13 games of the stretch, including consecutive losses to the Tigers and Royals after a six-game winning streak. The Twins’ last win against a team currently above .500 came on May 1 when they beat Tampa Bay to take two of three from the Rays.
  • It remains unclear which Twins players are not vaccinated for COVID-19 and thus won’t be able to travel with the team for a three-game series June 3-5 in Canada. Players who have not received the vaccine can be placed on the restricted list — often used for those dealing with personal issues or legal troubles — and will not be paid or get service time for the games missed. The Twins will be able to replace anyone on the restricted list with a player who is vaccinated.
  • First baseman Alex Kirilloff went 3-for-4 with a home run, three RBIs and three runs on Thursday in the Triple-A Saints’ 8-1 victory over Indianapolis at CHS Field in St. Paul. Kirilloff is hitting .333 with two home runs and 10 RBIs with the Saints. It will be interesting to see if the Twins recall Kirilloff and/or Royce Lewis at some point soon. The Twins sent the hot-hitting Lewis back to Triple-A when shortstop Carlos Correa returned from injury. Lewis has been playing some shortstop at St. Paul, but also moving around to other spots to get experience. He played third base on Thursday and went 2-for-5 with an RBI and two runs.
  • The Marlins selected the contract of former Twins fan favorite Willians Astudillo from Triple-A Jacksonville this week. Astudillo signed a minor league contract with Miami after the offseason lockout  andwas hitting .286/.326/.464 with four home runs for Jacksonville. Astudillo went 0-for-2 after pinch-hitting and then playing second base in the Marlins’ 5-4 loss against Tampa Bay on Wednesday.
  • Sounds as if the Timberwolves will introduce new president of basketball operations Tim Connelly next week. Scoopmaster Darren “Doogie” Wolfson reported Connelly already attended a workout at the Wolves’ facility this week after being hired Monday. Connelly left the Denver Nuggets for a reported five-year, $40 million deal that includes a small piece of ownership.
  • Listening to Chris Archer do a guest appearance during the Twins-Tigers telecast Wednesday on YouTube, it would appear to be a certainty the pitcher will end up in a broadcast booth or studio role once his playing days are finished.
  • Former top-line starting pitcher Zack Greinke, whose name came up as a potential fit for the Twins during the offseason, is scheduled to start Sunday at Target Field. The 38-year-old righthander is 0-3 with a 4.53 ERA.