Buxton, Smeltzer the silver linings in loss

August 8th, 2020

's bat is finally waking up. He needed that.

The Twins' center fielder missed the final week and a half of Summer Camp and the first three games of the regular season after he sustained a left mid-foot sprain, and he needed support from those around him to keep things in perspective through an extended slump. Long homers on consecutive days will also help.

Buxton followed a homer on Thursday with another long solo blast on Friday, but his homer and Marwin Gonzalez’s solo shot weren’t enough offense to overcome the Royals in a 3-2 loss at Kauffman Stadium.

"Probably the last couple of days, I was a little hard on myself," Buxton said before Friday’s game. "I had a few teammates and coaches come up to me and kind of put it in perspective that I missed a little bit of time and I also came in a little bit later, so I shouldn't be too hard on myself because I'm technically still trying to figure things out and this is a little trial and error, Spring Training for me."

On a rainy evening without the services of (day off) and , who was placed on the 10-day injured list before the game, the Twins’ offense was held hitless beyond the fifth inning as Minnesota dropped consecutive games for the first time in 2020 despite a strong spot start from rookie left-hander .

Buxton started the season 2-for-18 with six strikeouts through his first seven games. Could things finally be turning around? He doubled and scored a run in his only plate appearance on Wednesday, homered and hit another ball to the warning track on Thursday and crushed a big fly estimated by Statcast at 442 feet on Friday.

Kansas City starter Jakob Junis left a slider over the heart of the plate in the third inning, and Buxton turned on the pitch and drove it deep to left-center field for the fourth-longest homer of his career.

"I feel pretty good at the plate," Buxton said. "I feel confident. It's one of those things where I want to be hitting a little bit more than what I'm showing. But to keep stuff in perspective, teammates and coaches have definitely been there to keep us level-headed and let us know not to press."

Twins manager Rocco Baldelli refuses to characterize Buxton’s start to the season as a “slump.” He instead points to Buxton’s 90.1 mph average exit velocity in 2020 entering Friday night’s game -- which will only increase following the homer -- and the quality of Buxton’s swings and contact as reasons to believe the center fielder has been quick to catch up from his lack of reps leading into the season.

“Buck had a pretty interesting last couple of months,” Baldelli said. “He's got a beautiful new child at home, he came to [Summer Camp] and got there a little bit after everybody else, then he dealt with an injury that set him back and didn't allow him to get the at-bats he needed.”

Buxton's added perspective from his teammates -- and his recent results at the plate -- certainly help as he continues to deal with the lingering effects of not only his foot injury, but also the torn labrum in his left shoulder that ended his 2019 season and was surgically repaired in September.

The 26-year-old said that the pain in his foot is simply "tolerable" and still improving, but it's bearable enough to the point where Buxton is able to play almost every day. That's not much of an impediment to his hitting, but Buxton said that he's still held back at the plate by soreness in his left shoulder, and he's had to adapt his routine in the past two days to do some early work to loosen it up.

"I know it's not going to [be re-injured], but there's days when it's a little bit more sore than others," Buxton said. "Trying to figure out what I can do to manage that soreness and not overdo it to allow me to stay in the lineup as well."

The message here is clear: The Twins will give Buxton plenty of leeway as he continues his adjustment to the season to keep him as healthy as he needs. His teammates wouldn’t have it any other way.

“When he’s out there, there’s not much that’s going to fall,” Smeltzer said. “Having trust in him from my debut last year. Being a rookie in my debut, he had the guts to run into the wall. It shows a ton about his character and the person that he is. I would not want anyone else in center field.”