Managing recurring knee issues a priority for Buxton

May 6th, 2024

MINNEAPOLIS -- Up to this point in his career, would push through anything, play through anything, spend however long he’d need to in the trainer’s room and just do whatever he needed to do to be on the field for his teammates, no matter how he felt.

“His initial reaction is always to say, ‘I’m good,’” manager Rocco Baldelli said when Buxton went to the IL. “When he can’t say, ‘I’m good,’ it hurts him.”

But this time, it was different. Buxton felt the pain in his knee at some point when he attempted stolen bases on three consecutive pitches last Wednesday in Chicago. He acknowledges that even two or three years ago, he’d have hidden the pain, figured out ways to deal with it and kept pushing through it for the Twins until it all gave way

This time, he listened to his body and went to the IL for right knee inflammation -- and he figures he’ll need to listen to what his right knee tells him for the remainder of his career.

“It's just trying to get in front of those types of problems out there -- not necessarily problems, just stuff I've got to manage throughout the rest of my career, you know?” Buxton said.

That’s probably the most direct Buxton has been about his knee situation since all this began. Is there really just some acknowledgement and acceptance, then, of the idea that these knee concerns will just need to be in the back of his mind until he hangs up the cleats?

“It is. Still getting used to it,” Buxton said. “But it's just one of those things. I've got to be able to manage that.”

Within that context, Buxton is still plenty encouraged, he says. The MRI that revealed no structural damage and only inflammation in his twice surgically-repaired right knee -- site of autumn procedures in each of the last two years -- went “very well,” he said. He’s still getting workouts in every day, not hitting yet but watching old at-bats in anticipation of a short IL stint.

The level of issue in the knee doesn’t seem to be close to what it was before those two surgeries -- an arthroscopic cleanup in September 2022 and a plica excision in October 2023 -- which have allowed him to play center field and be more mentally free than he’d been over the last two years.

“I ain't been limited to anything,” Buxton said. “That, to me, just allows me to go out there and be myself already, not having to worry about -- stolen bases, can I run, can I go first to third here. None of that is a problem. That's a little positive that I'm taking while this went down. That's something I'm able to do that I wasn't able to do the last year and a half or so.”

He has also been very encouraged in the big picture since that October procedure -- but he’s acknowledging that wasn’t a catch-all panacea.

“It was a great process, especially the way we went about it each and every day to where I'm ready and prepared,” Buxton said. “I don't think it's anything we could have done to make sure I went longer or whatever the situation is. My body just tells me I'm overdoing it.”

Now that the surgery has gotten him into an improved place with the knee as a whole, it seems that he’s just taking these experiences to learn what “overdoing it” means in the context of how he needs to manage this knee moving forward. He’s not being limited in what he can do, but perhaps he better understands where there could be more give and take in games.

And this time, he understood to listen when his body told him to take it easy -- so that this is more of a two-week issue and not another offseason surgery-type deal.

“I think this guy’s a warrior,” president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said late last week. “He fights through everything he can fight through, and ultimately, just right now, he realizes this is probably the right thing for the overall long term for the whole season.”

“I'm listening to my body a little bit more than just my mind and my heart,” Buxton said. “My heart and mind know where they want to be, but my body is, ‘You want to keep doing what you want to do, you want to make sure you take care of it early rather than late.’”