La Velle E. Neal III
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Byron Buxton tripled in his first rehabilitation game on June 8 for Class AAA St.Paul. He then slugged two home runs two days later in his second game.

Followers clamored for Buxton, out of the Twins lineup since May 6 because of a hip injury, to be brought back so he could help bail out a sinking ship. He was hitting and he was needed.

As it turned out, we all were caught staring at the shiny object.

Instead of focusing on how his brief rehab stint started, we should have focused on his last game. Buxton wasn't flying around the bases with his usual vigor during his third rehab game on June 12, and that should have been taken seriously.

Perhaps there was a communication gap somewhere, but Buxton should have remained in St. Paul until he got his jets back. When he joined the Twins in Seattle this past week and started running on the field, it was obvious to the coaches and trainers that he wasn't 100%.

Dr. Rocco Baldelli, MD, has been knocked for being too careful with his players, but the Twins manager doesn't want to put someone coming off a hip injury back on the field if he can't run. They have enough designated hitters. The Twins need Buxton patrolling center field and being the offensive force he was in April, when he was named AL player of the month.

The Twins decided Saturday he was ready, activating him before their 3-2 victory at Texas. "We just wanted to make sure while we had the opportunity to see him," Baldelli said. "… This is where we're at right now and he's ready to play. Frankly, that's all it comes down to."

Buxton, 27, likely was as frustrated as anyone by his injury. He hasn't played 100 games in a season since 2017. In April he was off to the best start of his career, batting .370 with nine home runs, 17 RBI and a 1.180 on base-plus-slugging percentage. We have witnessed an awakening at the plate, as Buxton entered Saturday hitting .280 with 32 homers, 90 RBI and 21 stolen bases since the beginning of the 2019 season.

The man has figured something out, and pitchers are suffering because of it.

Buxton, who can be a free agent following the 2022 season, is playing himself into a nice contract. His injury history, however, makes his value hard to determine. If healthy, he's easily a nine-figure player. But he has not been healthy.

With the Twins more than a dozen games out of a wild-card spot, there is no sense of urgency. In this case, Dr. Baldelli was correct to wait on activating Buxton until his elite speed was ready to go.

Loons need a boost

The last time the Loons played at home, on May 15, Franco Fragapane and Adrien Hunou had not joined the team yet. But the two attacking players will be available on Wednesday when the Loons play host to Dallas.

Fans will be able to see in person the club's two big international acquisitions who are supposed to boost a Loons attack that has been lacking. The Loons are now allowed to fill Allianz Field to 90% of its 19,400 capacity, and that should be a lot of fans.

The Loons are not quite at full strength because of three players participating in the European championships, but they are getting close. Coach Adrian Heath has been encouraged by recent training sessions with nearly a full roster. He better be, because scoring six goals in seven games — tied for the second fewest in Major League Soccer — is well below what was expected of the Loons entering the season.

Raising millions

Harmon Killebrew died 10 years ago in May. But he's remembered in many different ways. One of them is the Killebrew-Thompson Memorial golf tournament in Sun Valley, Idaho, a fundraiser for leukemia and cancer research. Killebrew started the tournament in 1977 in memory of former Twins shortstop Danny Thompson, who died of leukemia in 1976. This year's event will take place Aug. 18-21 at Sun Valley Resort's Trail Creek Golf Course.

Proceeds from the tournament have gone to two centers: the St. Luke's Cancer Institute in Idaho and the Masonic Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota. Since 1977, the event has raised $18.9 million for leukemia and cancer research. Even last year, during the pandemic, golfers from 16 states competed remotely and submitted scores from their local courses. That event raised $925,000.

This year, in addition to the event in Idaho, there will be a similar tournament held on Friday at Victory Links Golf Course in Blaine.

It will be Shohei's big show

Angels' star Shohei Ohtani on Friday committed to participating in the Home Run Derby. That's all I needed. After watching him take batting practice, the call here is that he's going to win the Derby regardless of the competition.

NFL's unfinished COVID business

The NFL's updated COVID-19 protocols have upset some players this summer who feel there's too big of a difference between what vaccinated and unvaccinated players can do. Look for the players union to push for these protocols to be revised before opening weekend.

The 3-2 Pitch: Three observations and two predictions every Sunday.

lneal@startribune.com • Twitter: @LaVelleNeal