MINNEAPOLIS -- All things considered, it's pretty remarkable to manager Rocco Baldelli that the Twins were able to activate Nelson Cruz from the 10-day injured list on Monday, when the designated hitter was back in his usual spot in the lineup, hitting third against the White Sox. He went 2-for-5 with an RBI in a 6-4 loss.
"You just never know what's going to happen when you show up here, or anywhere, I guess," Baldelli said. "We think one thing, then you have a complete swing of, really, the emotion surrounding the situation. And then we're talking about maybe he's going to be OK. Then a couple of days later, he's swinging and he looks perfectly normal."
Only 11 days ago, things appeared grim when Cruz exited a game against the Indians after injuring his problematic left wrist on a swing and miss. Tests revealed a ruptured tendon, but in a stroke of luck, Cruz actually woke up the next morning without any pain, and a visit to a specialist ruled out the need for surgery.
That pain never returned when Cruz resumed baseball activity, while he was hitting in the cage or when taking batting practice. A minimum stay on the injured list later, here he is -- pain-free and ready to go.
"We haven't really had a hint of a discussion related to discomfort, related to anything associated with his wrist," Baldelli said. "He's seemingly in great shape. He's ready to play. He's been adamant about that. He basically said a couple of days after the original injury that he'd be ready to play."
If Cruz can return to anywhere near his torrid second-half form preceding the injury, his return could be a pivotal swing for the Twins, whose offense appears to have hit its stride as the team opened a 2 1/2-game American League Central lead over the Indians with a four-game sweep of the Rangers in Texas. Cruz was slugging .900 in the second half and still leads the Majors with 16 homers since the All-Star break.
Baldelli was open about the fact that it was a difficult and frustrating decision that resulted in Zack Littell being optioned to Triple-A Rochester in a corresponding move for Cruz's activation.
But as the Twins have done throughout the season, they need to put themselves in a position where they could cover innings with a shorthanded seven-man bullpen. With Lewis Thorpe completely fresh to pitch in a long-relief capacity and Littell having pitched on both Saturday and Sunday, the 23-year-old right-hander fell victim to circumstance.
"It doesn't make it fun to have those conversations in any way," Baldelli said. "He's not just doing his job -- he's pitching really well and he's been a guy that we have turned to in some very challenging spots. He's covered some huge innings for us. He's pitched in winning ballgames for us. He's continually done it, and I think he's going to continue to do it."
Littell has posted a 0.96 ERA (two earned runs in 18 2/3 innings) since he was converted to a full-time reliever in June. Four of his seven inherited runners scored, but he was not charged with a run in 16 of his 17 appearances in that span, with 17 strikeouts and only six walks to his name.
Buxton continues progression
Byron Buxton played catch on the field before Monday's game and has been hitting soft toss and doing some tee work as he continues his recovery from a left shoulder subluxation that has sidelined the center fielder since Aug. 3.
Baldelli said Buxton's next step would be more "impactful" swinging and testing out his movement in game-like situations, with the possibility of a rehab assignment before his return.
"Everything has gone in the right direction from the very beginning of this process," Baldelli said. "That’s really all we could ask for. I know there’s always the tendency to get impatient and to want to see how quickly we can get a particular player back."