On Monday, Byron Buxton missed his 17th game since injuring his left shoulder during a game in Miami. And it looks like he might not return until the end of the month or even early September.
Buxton has yet to be cleared to resume baseball activates. He has been swinging a bat but has not faced live pitching or even hit against a machine. He didn’t travel with the team on its recent road trip to Milwaukee and Texas.
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli on Monday didn’t sound as if Buxton was ready to take his recovery to the next level.
“I know there’s always the tendency to get impatient and to want to see how quickly we can get a particular player back,” Baldelli said. “But we knew this was going to be — I forget what the original time line was — but say a month. We knew it was going to be weeks. Not a couple weeks, but several weeks before we had an idea of the direction he was going in and maybe where that process would end.”
Before Buxton is taken off of the injured list, he will have to do more than just get through a couple batting practice sessions, making a return in the next 10 days less likely. Baldelli even hinted at a minor league rehabilitation stint.
The closer the calendar gets to September, the easier it would be for the Twins to wait until Sept. 1, when rosters can expand, to bring him back.
“I think there’s also a point where we’re going to have to … if everything goes well, which it has … truly test it out with game-like movement and maybe even some games,” Baldelli said. “To make sure that he’s able to not just run and swing and play in the outfield, but do it at a level that he’s going to need to do to compete at the big-league level and to really do it well at the big-league level. We’re cautiously optimistic about everything going on, but it’s gone well to this point.”
Buxton, batting .262 with 10 home runs and 46 RBI, was injured Aug. 3 when he chased a drive by Harold Ramirez, suffering a slight dislocation. The Twins have gone 10-6 since then.
Cruz up, Littell down
Nelson Cruz was activated from the IL on Monday and was back in the starting lineup as the designated hitter. To make room, the Twins optioned righthander Zack Littell to Class AAA Rochester.
The same Zack Littell who has thrown 6 ⅔ scoreless innings since being called up from Rochester on Aug. 3. Littell appears to be transitioning well to the bullpen, but has an option left and the club needed to make room for Cruz.
Littell looked frustrated as he packed up his belongings, and Baldelli understood.
“I’ll keep the specifics between me and Zack, but I can completely understand that there’s some frustration,” Baldelli said. “He’s been very understanding several times over when we have done this with him. The way that bullpens work, especially in 2019, there is going to be movement in the bullpen, and guys that have the ability to go up and down are going to go up and down because you have to cover those innings. It doesn’t make it right in some ways. It doesn’t make it fun to have those conversations in any way.”
Littell has been called up and sent down four times this season.
• Max Kepler, who left Sunday’s game because of heat-related illness, was not in the lineup Monday but available off the bench. Luis Arraez made his first major league start as the leadoff hitter.
• Spring training schedules were announced Monday, and the Twins will play the Gophers in an exhibition game on Feb. 21 at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers. The teams last played in 2018. They open Grapefruit League season the next day against Pittsburgh in Sarasota. The schedule also includes four games against Atlanta, which is moving to North Port, less than 50 miles from Fort Myers. Pitchers and catchers workouts begin Feb. 12.