Twins’ injury management not about wins, but ‘right thing to do’

Byron Buxton ran full tilt to toward the bullpen, glove outstretched to catch a fly out in the fifth inning Sunday.

But he closed his hand just a fraction too early, and the ball bounced off it and away. Meanwhile, Buxton’s momentum carried him right into a collision with a chain-link fence, which he hit right-leg first before tumbling down and planting on the same leg before he fully hit the ground.

The Target Field crowd gasped, as did probably anyone watching who knows a bit about the center fielder’s long injury history. That right knee in particular is Buxton’s current source of pain, an injury he picked up just a week into the season sliding into second base at Fenway Park. Yet he popped back up and kept playing, even joking after the game that he should have caught the ball.

Initial imaging on his knee from a month ago showed no structural damage, and Buxton hasn’t had to go to the injured list. Instead, the Twins have deliberately given him off days here and there to help him manage the persistent pain and hopefully prevent it from worsening.

Having played 23 of 35 games so far this year, Buxton is batting .259 with 11 home runs, five doubles and 19 RBI. And he’s hoping this will become just his second of eight MLB seasons where he can eclipse 100 games.

“It’s good. It’s getting better. Still managing it,” Buxton said of his knee. “So for me, as long as I can play and get out there to contribute and help the team out, that’s what I’m willing to do. Some days are better than others, but that’s baseball. That’s your body. You have to listen to your body, and that’s something I’m starting to do a little bit more, which has allowed me to stay on the field longer. “

But it is a glaring absence when the franchise player is missing from the lineup, as Buxton was in Saturday’s 3-2, 10-inning loss, when manager Rocco Baldelli’s call to not pinch hit Buxton in the late innings drew some criticism from fans.

“All the things that he’s doing out there right now, all the amazing things that he’s doing, he’s doing while dealing with a pretty serious issue with his knee,” Baldelli said. “… There’s some days he certainly wants to play where he probably shouldn’t be out there, but he’s going to want to be out there. So we’re just going to continue to manage it.

“… It’s not always going to be the most satisfying thing, knowing that he’s not going to be able to play on a certain day. It’s certainly the right thing to do, though.”

Roster returns

Several key players could make their returns to the lineup in the Twins’ upcoming three-game series at Oakland.

Starter Dylan Bundy last pitched May 4 in Baltimore, where he tested positive for COVID-19 the next day. He took a bit longer to recover but will start Tuesday vs. the A’s.

“We’re looking into maybe a potential piggyback game for his first game back,” Baldelli said. “It’ll give us an opportunity to not throw him out there for 85 pitches his first game back.”

Bailey Ober (right groin strain) was supposed to pitch for the Saints on Saturday night, but that game was rained out at Columbus. Ober started Sunday, giving up four hits and five runs (four earned), including a home run, in five innings. But he did not walk anyone and struck out seven.

Outfielder Kyle Garlick (right calf strain) played in his second rehab game alongside Ober, going 2-for-4 with a double and a run scored. Baldelli said Garlick would jump on a plane and meet the Twins in Oakland, while Ober would fly back to Minnesota first before then joining the team on the West Coast.

Baldelli did not have a set timeline for outfielder Trevor Larnach (right groin strain) or shortstop Carlos Correa (bruised middle finger). Larnach has made steady progress and is back to baseball activities. Correa could return in the upcoming week, Baldelli said, as long as his throwing and swinging are back to 100%.

“He’s going to have to be able to throw the ball the way he can for us to activate him. And obviously, swinging,” Baldelli said. “He’s going to get a lot of swings in the cage and getting more and more reps.”

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