Off the IL, Buxton remains focused on playing CF

May 18th, 2024

CLEVELAND -- was reinstated off the injured list ahead of Saturday’s game against the Guardians -- and much to his relief, there’s also an expectation that the Twins won’t be using him any differently after the flare-up of inflammation in his right knee.

“That’s what I’m hopeful for, yeah,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Something similar to what we’ve been doing.”

That’s all Buxton really wanted to emphasize with the team before he headed out on a two-game rehab assignment with Triple-A St. Paul on Wednesday and Thursday, he said: Just don’t do anything differently. Let him play, don’t make him a DH again or hold him back, and just let him be free and figure out how to handle this.

In his first game back off the IL, Buxton starts in center and is slotted fifth in the lineup.

To make room for Buxton on the 26-man roster, the Twins optioned utility man Austin Martin, who hit .214 with one double, one walk and two stolen bases in eight games during his recent callup, to Triple-A St. Paul.

“I don't want to have to do anything differently than what I was doing,” Buxton said. “I know that with what I was doing, this happened, but I went through Spring Training, then I went through the month I did before this happened. Just trying to figure out better ways to manage it.”

There is “trial and error” to figuring out how to manage his twice surgically repaired knee over a full season, as Buxton readily admits. What ended up as a 15-day stint on the injured list is just part of that. He doesn’t know if -- or when -- it will flare up again, but he chalks this up as another data point in figuring out what the knee can handle.

The process is a little different than in years past in managing the right knee, on which Buxton has undergone surgeries in two consecutive autumns. It led to his spending countless hours in the trainer's room before games last season and his being held out of center field. This year, he’s at a point where he just doesn’t want to think about it on the field anymore.

“Making sure I don't go 110% on everything before the game starts, rather just making sure I do what I'm supposed to do to get my body right, get my mental side right,” Buxton said. “Then, when the game starts, just go out there and just leave it on the field.”

Before Buxton went on the IL, he had appeared in 28 of the Twins’ 30 games, starting in 24 of them and starting in center field in 20 of them.

There’s no reason to think that sort of pace won’t eventually continue, though Baldelli said the Twins might take it a little easier with his usage at the start -- but perhaps part of the trial and error is in learning, say, not to be on the move on the basepaths for three consecutive pitches. That’s what caused his exit from a May 1 game against the White Sox -- and now, he knows not to do that.

Buxton said he’s not going to be holding back on the basepaths because of this flare-up -- that’s part of just being the free, instinctual version of himself on the field that he wants (and needs) to be mentally at his best. But he’ll perhaps be a bit more selective.

“I'll probably pick and choose a little bit better,” Buxton said. “Just when is a good time to go, good time not to go, did you go, whatever the situation may be. I'm not going to let it from letting me run, because it's something that helps the team, and it also allows me to be free.”

That’s the goal: Just being in position to simply be himself, and continuing to figure out the push and pull that will allow him to do that.

“Just in a better position than where it was to be able to just come back and do the things I want to do,” Buxton said. “Not to keep harping on DHing, but that's, like, written in my head. That's something I don't want to do. Mentally, that was a toll. So anything for me to stay away from that.”