MINNEAPOLIS -- Byron Buxton is making his return to the field.
Buxton will start in center field and play roughly seven innings for Triple-A St. Paul on Wednesday to begin a rehab assignment alongside Alex Kirilloff, who will start as the designated hitter. It will mark Buxton’s first time seeing center field in any game action since Aug. 22, 2022.
“I think he’s anticipating this in a big way,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He probably goes to bed at night dreaming about playing out there. This is something he’s almost certainly been anticipating for a long time and been waiting for. It means a lot to him to be out there.”
It’s unclear how often Buxton will appear in center field, and how often he could potentially play the field in his eventual return to the Majors. Through this rehab assignment, the Twins will learn more about how Buxton’s body will react to the outfield action and continue to evaluate what his positional fit could look like upon his eventual return.
“We're going to see how he's responding to [playing the outfield in Triple-A]," head athletic trainer Nick Paparesta said. "It gives us a little bit more of a controlled environment with a little bit more controlled activity level, and the ability to sit back and see how he responds from that instead of having him active on the Major League roster trying to figure that out on the fly."
While the Twins often map out a rehab plan for their players, Paparesta indicated that they would be more likely to be reactive on a day-by-day basis in Buxton’s case. The current plan involves Buxton playing center on Wednesday, taking a day off on Thursday and then figuring out what comes next.
“I’m optimistic right now that he’s feeling good,” Baldelli said. “His leg, his hip, everything feels good. Right now, this is the best opportunity to do this is what I would say. I don’t know what would have happened if we had tried to play Buck in the field in May or June when he was not as rested and probably in as good of a spot as he is now.”
That’s no surprise, considering a significant part of this rehab assignment will be in evaluating how Buxton’s problematic right knee responds to the rigors of playing in the outfield for the first time this year after he’d effectively treaded water at best while being limited to designated hitter.
How will Buxton feel the day after playing in center field? Would he be limited to DHing the next day, or would he need a day off altogether? How often can Buxton step foot in the outfield in a week and realistically maintain playing condition in the knee? These are likely some of the factors the Twins will have to feel out before his return to the Majors.
“It just depends on what day it is and how my body is feeling after that, how I recover,” Buxton said. “Have to take it one day at a time. If I look too far ahead, it might not go the way I think it's playing. Me, mentally, I get a little bit more mad when I have a plan and it doesn't go the way I look at it. Started figuring out it's best to slow things down one day at a time. It's something I'm learning.”