Early DH days planned to help Buxton stay in lineup

March 22nd, 2023

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It took one plate appearance for to announce his presence.

Buxton had been hitting against live pitching on the back fields and against Minor Leaguers, but his gradual progression to Opening Day finally brought him into a big league game as the leadoff hitter in the Twins' 5-2 victory over the Rays on Tuesday night at Hammond Stadium. In his first trip to the batter’s box, Buxton crushed a 110.4 mph double to the right-center-field gap, the hardest-hit tracked ball put in play by any Minnesota hitter this spring.

immediately followed with a two-run blast to left field, his first of the spring, and the pair of stars shared a big hug at home plate. Just how the Twins drew it up with their 1-2 punch of the present -- and future.

“I told him that I just needed him to come back so he could inspire me once again,” Correa said. “Felt good when he started with that double. I was like, 'All right, here we go. It's feeling like the regular season all over again.' Yeah, definitely got excited to see him back out there.”

The Twins are trying to keep that duo in their lineup as much as possible this season – and that’s why they’re going to open the season with Buxton as their everyday designated hitter instead of playing him in center field, manager Rocco Baldelli said.

Though Buxton is “doing great” physically, per Baldelli, the Twins are looking at a variety of factors -- his continued buildup from his knee surgery last fall and the cold weather in April among them -- as reasons to keep Buxton primarily at DH.

“If he could play 162 games in center field, we would have him in center field for 162 games,” Baldelli said. “Almost no player does that, or no player does that in the entire game. So what's going to help us get the absolute most out of Buck and help us win the most games? I think it's going to be him being in the lineup as much as possible.”

The game action emphasized to Buxton how close the Twins are to the regular season -- and he’s eager to get into the outfield and go full bore with his teammates, too. He doesn’t need the reps in the outfield this spring to feel good out there, as he said with a hearty laugh that he can “roll out of bed and catch a fly ball.”

But he does have to remember the big picture of the season, he said. And he has the support of his teammates in doing what he needs to just make sure he’s in the lineup with them as often as possible.

“I have my mind telling me, 'Oh, you’re fine to go out there and take fly balls and do this,'” Buxton said. “Then, my teammates are saying, ‘Yeah, stay in here and do your stuff.’ But for me, it's more just being out there with the team. They understand. It's good. Everybody understands. Everybody’s on the same page. It helps when you know everybody has your back and you can just go out there and go when you're ready.”

This has been the Twins’ plan, Baldelli said. This was around when they hoped to get Buxton into a game on the Major League side, and given his history, it wasn’t going to be as easy as simply pushing him into everyday center-field action at the first possible opportunity. They want to be smart with his usage and buildup -- and this is what it looks like.

“If he’s in the lineup, I like our chances, and our goal is to get him built up and ready to go out there and hit right now,” Baldelli said. “Over time, I think those objectives, they’ll change. I can’t tell you what we’re going to be doing the second week of the season or the third week of the season. I cannot tell you that right now, but the goal right now -- what we’re doing right now puts us in line to reach our objectives.”