Kirilloff (wrist), Polanco (knee) to begin season on IL

March 23rd, 2023

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Two of the Twins’ key hitters have run out of time to build up for the regular season.

Neither Alex Kirilloff (recovery from right wrist surgery) nor (left knee soreness) will be ready to join the Twins by Opening Day, and the expectation is that both will begin the season on the injured list as they build back more deliberately from the injuries that kept them off the field at the end of the 2022 season.

Those two players had joined in ramping up for the regular season at their own pace during Spring Training, away from game action. Buxton played in his first Major League game on Tuesday and is expected to be ready for Opening Day as the Twins’ designated hitter.

Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said Sunday that the Twins’ plan for Polanco had been slowed by lingering soreness and fatigue in the left knee, which sent the normally durable second baseman to the IL last September. Polanco’s initial plan would have involved a relatively tight timeframe to get him ready for Opening Day, which then became unfeasible.

“He's still trending the way we want,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “If Spring Training was a little bit longer, I think we would be having a different discussion. [He] has made steady progress, but just not fast enough with the time we had. We actually realistically thought he may be ready for Opening Day, but we just need to keep him going in the right direction.”

But Kirilloff tracked a bit behind from earlier in camp. Falvey noted on March 11 that Kirilloff had, at times, been cutting back on some live at-bats based on how he was feeling. The Twins had been least committal about the possibility of Kirilloff’s readiness for Opening Day throughout camp as he continued to feel out the soreness in his right wrist following a second consecutive season ended by surgery on the continually problematic joint.

Kirilloff has progressed to playing in Minor League games, but hasn’t yet appeared on the big league side. He’s expected to stay in Fort Myers, Fla., for extended spring training at the Twins’ complex.

“I think we’re definitely still in that boat where we don’t want to rush into anything like that and we want to make sure that I play as many games this year at 100 percent as possible,” Kirilloff said. “So we’re just kind of taking every step possible right now to get to that point. … I feel like I’m getting closer.”

The Twins have been unable to put a timeline on Kirilloff’s recovery all along, he noted, because there’s so little precedent for his surgery, which involved shaving the ulna bone in his right arm to shorten it and create space in the area. He notes that the only other MLB player he’s found to have undergone the procedure is Kirk Gibson, back in the 1980s.

Kirilloff is encouraged by how the wrist feels, compared to his recovery from his previous surgery.

“Just being able to recover and take as many swings as I have up to this point without taking a step back has been really positive, so I feel like as long as we can continue that, we’re in a pretty good spot,” Kirilloff said.

The two injuries almost certainly opened up a roster spot for , who went 4-for-4 with a homer in the Twins' 11-0 win over the Red Sox on Wednesday. Larnach should now be a middle-of-the-order bat against right-handed pitchers while playing the corner outfield spots.

It’s also likely that will be the Twins’ primary first baseman against right-handed pitching, opening up that outfield slot for Larnach. In the Twins’ extremely flexible roster composition, and could each see time at second base in Polanco’s stead, depending on the handedness of the starting pitcher -- as could, perhaps, .

That leaves one final spot on the bench. With two infielders down and Larnach likely giving the Twins another outfielder, it stands to reason that they could opt for another infielder -- which could involve a non-roster player like the versatile Willi Castro, who has had an impressive spring (9-for-33, two homers, seven runs), if the Twins want to leave No. 4 prospect Edouard Julien in the Minors for more seasoning.