Byron Buxton walked into Rocco Baldelli's office at Target Field at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday, closed the door and sat down. He wanted a meeting. His message: Put me on the playoff roster.
Buxton knows he doesn't have much time to make a case that he's healthy enough to play in the Twins' postseason — less than five days, in fact, with Game 1 on Tuesday. His right knee has been an issue all year, and it flared up on him when he tried to play in center field earlier in the month during a minor-league rehabilitation game with the St. Paul Saints.
The 29-year-old Twins star knows that Baldelli has to have the team's best interests as the top priority. Buxton also knows he's likely to be playing with some level of discomfort if given the opportunity.
Buxton is going to hit, run and take fly balls in center at Target Field while the Twins are in Colorado this weekend. This will be his attempt to prove he can contribute to the playoff cause.
Buxton told me Wednesday after the meeting what he told Baldelli: "I'm going to make it harder for you [to decide] over these next four days than it was the entire season."
Buxton was bold. "That's the mindset that keeps me pushing day in and day out," he said.
Baldelli leaned back in his chair and listened to the determined Buxton. The meeting lasted 20 minutes.
The manager has watched Buxton undergo treatment on the knee throughout the season. He's seen how he's battled to be available just so he can be the designated hitter. The results haven't been great, as Buxton has batted .207 with 17 homers and 42 RBI in 85 games. He hasn't played since Aug. 1.
But if Buxton proves that the knee has improved enough to allow him to handle defensive duties, Baldelli is open to using him in the first round of the playoffs. Baldelli must cut his roster to 26 players for the wild-card round.
"Keep going," Baldelli told Buxton. "Keep pushing. Keep pushing and see how far your body can go."
Following the meeting, Buxton agreed to an interview with me in front of his stall in the clubhouse. It has not been the season he expected. It was just a year ago that he played in his first All-Star Game — highlighted with a home run — and was in Major League Baseball's crosshairs as someone who could help promote the league. But he had knee issues during the year, leading to offseason arthroscopic right knee surgery.
I have covered Buxton since he was an extra player for a spring training game in 2013 at just 19 years old. On Wednesday, he sounded as serious as ever as he talked about his season and his playoff hopes.
'Trying to figure this out'
Buxton confirmed the initial plan to have him open the season as the DH was expected to be temporary. Maintenance on the knee was more extensive than anticipated, as the knee swelled up more than once during the season. He has played with discomfort for much of the season, even in a DH-only role.
"I was still coming off surgery," Buxton said. "I had never played a year following knee surgery. I was still trying to figure this out, all year."
What is life as a DH like?
"Hard," he said. "Still haven't figured that out. To be a DH, you have to mentally know you are never playing in the field. So you sit there and think about your at-bats. Or l would go into the cage and see my hands weren't set right. I'd go back up to the plate and something else wasn't right. It was like you kept trying to fix something — and there was nothing wrong. I just was overthinking it because I wasn't playing defense.
"I'd go, 'Damn, I struck out. I can't go out there and take a hit away from y'all.' Can't go to the end of the dugout and wait to grab your glove."
Buxton must prove he can run and play defense well enough to be included on the roster. It's likely that Royce Lewis will be the DH as he won't be 100% because of a left hamstring strain, so Buxton has competition at that position. Also, Michael A. Taylor has belted 20 home runs and stolen bases in an admirable impersonation of Buxton in center field. Buxton's presence also affects Andrew Stevenson, who is a possible roster option as a pinch runner for Lewis and can play all three outfield spots.
As desperate as Buxton is, he knows Baldelli has to make a decision — a decision centered on winning a postseason game and a playoff series.
"I don't want to get out there and be half-tail and hurt the team because I can't go out there and do the things I know I can do," he said.
One encouraging sign for the future is that Twins trainer Nick Paparesta noted recently the surgically repaired part of Buxton's knee continues to improve. And there's no indication the injury could be a problem next year or beyond.
"Not that I know of," Buxton said. "I just didn't know how I was going to be coming off of surgery."
On Thursday, Buxton worked out at CHS Field with Lewis, Carlos Correa and others. That will continue throughout the weekend and likely on Monday when the Twins have a scheduled workout before the wild-card round begins. Playoff rosters are due at 10 a.m. Tuesday, and the Twins likely will take up until the final minutes to determine Buxton's availability.
"Everybody loves Buck," Baldelli said. "Everybody wants him to be on the playoff roster. Everybody wants to see him continue to make strides toward returning to the field.
"This will all come to a head on Tuesday."