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Notes: Cave thrives in early opportunities

@dohyoungpark
July 29, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS -- Jake Cave is always ready to play -- and he's already off to a good start in 2020. It's a good thing, too, as the Twins are still being cautious with Byron Buxton's workload following his return from a left mid-foot sprain. Though Buxton returned to the lineup

MINNEAPOLIS -- Jake Cave is always ready to play -- and he's already off to a good start in 2020. It's a good thing, too, as the Twins are still being cautious with Byron Buxton's workload following his return from a left mid-foot sprain.

Though Buxton returned to the lineup in Tuesday night's home opener against the Cardinals, the speedy center fielder was on the bench for Wednesday's series finale as the Twins continue to carefully monitor his health and ramp him up with work in the training room. Enter Cave, Minnesota's fourth outfielder, who was 3-for-9 with six RBIs (second most on the team) heading into Wednesday.

"Jake isn't a guy that's going to come in and play a few games here and there; Jake's established himself," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "Jake is a very good Major League outfielder and a potent bat, and he's showing us that with the at-bats that he's having right now. He showed it to us last year in a lot of different ways. He's here, and he's here to stay."

Cave made two starts in center field in Buxton's stead during the Twins' season-opening series against the White Sox in Chicago, and he hit a grand slam to open the scoring in Minnesota's 14-2 win on Sunday.

It's fair to ask whether Cave has earned more consistent playing time considering not only his brief success in 2020, but also his performance throughout his career, from his 13 homers and .786 OPS as a rookie in '18 to his improved .351 on-base percentage and .805 OPS last season. Cave has spoken in the past about how it's easier for him to play when he gets consistent plate appearances, but he's adapted to his backup role.

"I think it gets easier for me now," Cave said. "I feel like in the past couple years, when I hadn’t played in that role before, it’s harder to stay loose, it’s harder to stay locked in, it’s harder to be ready to go. But I feel like now, whatever the situation is, starting or not playing for a couple days or whatever, I feel like I’ll be ready to go."

Cave said that his jumps and decision-making in the outfield have improved since he first entered the Majors, and he's continuing to find better pitches to drive the ball when he's at the plate. Plenty of opportunities have found him in the past due to outfield injuries, and he'll continue to get those chances in the short term while Buxton increases his workload.

"The last thing we’re going to do is throw [Buxton] out there for two, three, five games in a row before we give him a break," Baldelli said. "I would call it still a ramp-up in some ways, but I’m sure it won’t take too, too long before he’s ready to play regularly."

Odorizzi to throw bullpen 'soon'
The Twins have managed one full turn through their rotation without Jake Odorizzi, who began the season on the injured list due to a right intercostal strain. Baldelli couldn't confirm before Wednesday's game whether Odorizzi would throw his scheduled bullpen session on Wednesday or Thursday, but he said that the right-hander will be back on the mound "soon."

"He's been stretching things out again, playing catch, still feels good," Baldelli said. "He seems like he's going to be in good shape. We don't have any specific dates yet as far as when he's going to be taking the mound against any other team."

Odorizzi was scratched from his final tune-up start of Summer Camp on July 19, and he later went on the injured list due to the strain, which manifested itself as occasional tightness and soreness in his upper back, according to Baldelli at the time. He is eligible to come off the IL on Thursday.

The Twins have not yet set their rotation plans for this weekend's four-game series against the Indians beyond José Berríos, who will toe the rubber against Shane Bieber in Thursday night's opener. Randy Dobnak made a spot start in Odorizzi's place against the White Sox last weekend.

Thorpe feels healthy, ready to pitch
Rookie left-hander Lewis Thorpe feels that he'll be available to pitch out of the bullpen whenever needed following his recovery from a contusion in his left knee area. He sustained the injury on Sunday, when he took a José Abreu grounder off his leg during the eighth inning.

"It got me in the right spot, and it just locked up on me," Thorpe said. "After a couple of days off, it feels better. I'm not limping anymore. I'm good to go."

Thorpe posted a 6.18 ERA in 27 2/3 innings last season, but Minnesota's No. 10 prospect per MLB Pipeline allowed only one hit in 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief in his 2020 debut.

Fans can purchase 'big heads' for Target Field
Though Twins fans can't access Target Field in person, they can still be present at the ballpark in 2020 through the purchase of a "big head" to be featured in a lower-level seat at Target Field. The 2 1/2-foot-tall personal likeness will cost $80 ($40 for for season-ticket holders), and can be purchased at twinsbaseball.com/fanface.

The first set of fan "big heads" is expected to be in place by Aug. 14. Each item will be authenticated and returned to fans as a keepsake following the season. Minnesota debuted the heads in Tuesday's home opener, when more than 80 Twins legends adorned the Champions Club behind home plate.

Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.