Donaldson, Buxton hurt in Twins' opener loss
MINNEAPOLIS -- As the Twins dealt with a rash of injuries throughout the regular season, they maintained that all that mattered would be getting healthy for the playoffs. Their lineup Friday night against the Reds was the closest to full strength it had been since July.
Then, Josh Donaldson was suddenly pulled from the game with a right calf cramp following the first inning, the Twins announced. Later, in the eighth, Byron Buxton was hit in the helmet by an errant pitch and walked off the field under his own power.
For the sake of the Twins’ momentum heading into the postseason, they will have to hope neither scare develops into anything significant. That’s all the more important considering the lineup fell quiet in a 7-2 loss to Cincinnati, which clinched a National League playoff berth with the win, while Cleveland moved into a tie with Chicago for second place in the American League Central.
After the game, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli didn’t have any substantive updates on either player’s condition. The Twins expect to have more information in the morning.
“I don’t know that anything that happened today is going to be something that keeps our guys off the field for very long,” Baldelli said. “If it is, there’s always a chance that [we would] stay on the careful side for the rest of the regular season. I think that’s a possibility, too. I don’t know enough about either Josh or Buck right now to say anything and feel good about it.”
Minnesota’s margin for error is now slimmer with both Cleveland and Chicago one game back with two to play. The Twins’ magic number to clinch home-field advantage in the Wild Card Series remains at one, while their magic number to clinch the division still dropped to two with the White Sox loss to the Cubs.
Having Donaldson and Buxton in the mix would certainly help the Twins close things out.
Donaldson’s cramp flared up in the same calf that caused the third baseman to miss 30 games earlier this season, as a strain kept him out of action for the entirety of August until he returned to the lineup on Sept. 2.
Though Ehire Adrianza replaced Donaldson and drove in Minnesota’s first run with a third-inning double, the Twins certainly missed Donaldson’s bat in a tight game marred by missed opportunities, during which they scored two runs on eight hits and three walks by going only 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position.
“I don’t know how many runs we left on base, but it was too many,” Baldelli said. “It is hard when you’re battling in a fairly competitive ballgame. And the more times those opportunities come up and we’re not able to get it done, the more difficult it feels like it becomes going forward in the game.”
It’s admittedly a small sample size, but Donaldson had a 1.057 OPS with runners in scoring position this season. He has a career .963 OPS in such scenarios. He entered Friday hitting .241/.405/.534 with five homers, two doubles and 14 walks in 20 games since his return from the earlier calf strain.
Any injury to Buxton would be just as serious a setback for the Twins, but the club will wait to further evaluate him until the morning.
The center fielder looked to avoid a serious scare after he appeared lucid and able to walk off the field after he was hit by a 91.7 mph fastball from Reds reliever Lucas Sims, but Buxton’s history of migraines and concussions certainly leaves room for concern. That includes a stint on the injured list in July 2019 with concussion-like symptoms.
That’s not to mention Buxton’s contributions on the field since his Sept. 1 return from the IL this year. He has been one of the biggest sources of power in Minnesota’s lineup this month, with a .305/.317/.746 line and eight homers, tied for third-most in the AL.
“On the field, he was looking at us -- and he’s a competitive guy and was frustrated when I told him I think he should come out of the game,” Baldelli said.
If Donaldson's injury is anything more serious than a simple cramp, the Twins could be in a tough situation with their infield depth as the first game of the Wild Card Series looms on Tuesday. Luis Arraez has been on the injured list since Sept. 11 and then sprained his ankle during an intrasquad game on Monday at the alternate training site. Jorge Polanco has also been dealing with a sore ankle.
Adrianza would likely start in Donaldson's place, since Marwin Gonzalez is anchored at second base due to Arraez's injury. Travis Blankenhorn would likely be next up in the Twins' infield depth if a roster move were to be necessary.
The Twins already have the depth to weather a possible injury to Buxton, since they’re carrying five outfielders on the active roster. Jake Cave would slide into Buxton’s role, and LaMonte Wade Jr would still serve as a fourth option. The only other outfielder in the 40-man playoff pool is Alex Kirilloff, the No. 2 prospect in the organization.