MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins’ rough performance in extra innings this season didn’t get any better on Thursday -- and worse yet, Byron Buxton’s injury troubles flared up again.
It’s a script that has unfolded all too often early this season for the Twins, in which they jumped out to an early lead, then the opponent tied things up against the relief corps and finished the job in extras. After Tyler Duffey allowed a go-ahead RBI single to Willie Calhoun in the 10th, the Twins dropped another extra-inning contest, 4-3, as they lost three of four at home to Texas.
The Twins fell to 0-7 in extra innings this season -- and a hip strain for Buxton, the reigning American League Player of the Month, won’t help their cause.
“It’s certainly beyond unexpected,” manager Rocco Baldelli said of his team’s continued misfortunes in extras. “It’s something different. It’s not like there’s one thing to point to here.”
Something initially appeared off with Buxton when he chose not to run out a ground ball to third base in the seventh inning, but he remained in the game. But in the ninth inning, he tried running out another ground ball to third -- and that time, something appeared to catch in his leg, and he hobbled across the first-base bag. Jake Cave replaced him in center field for the bottom of the ninth.
Buxton also collided with the center-field wall in the top of the seventh, when he made a leaping attempt at Jonah Heim’s game-tying homer off Hansel Robles.
The last time Buxton looked uncomfortable running down the line, he had sustained a mild right hamstring strain that caused him to miss four games -- and it would have been more, had Minnesota’s schedule not been disrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak within its clubhouse.
"It's very tough for everybody, because we love to see Buxton in the lineup,” said starter Michael Pineda, who allowed two runs in six innings.
Baldelli wasn’t able to pinpoint when Buxton sustained the hip strain but indicated that it did not appear related to his previous injury. The Twins will continue to evaluate their center fielder before issuing a further assessment.
“There have been times very recently where Buck’s been flying around the field and looked uninhibited while doing it,” Baldelli said.
There’s never a good time for a team to lose its leading MVP candidate, but this injury comes at a particularly bad time for the scuffling Twins offense. Not only did Buxton have a single, a double, a homer and two stolen bases this series, but he’s also the team’s leader in every meaningful offensive category, including hits (34), doubles (10), homers (nine), total bases (71), OPS (1.180) and steals (five). Following his Thursday exit, his season line stood at .370/.408/.772.
The Twins’ outfield depth was already thin, with both Luis Arraez (concussion) and Alex Kirilloff (right wrist sprain) on the sidelines. That necessitated a rare start against a right-handed pitcher for fourth outfielder Kyle Garlick -- and that might become a more common sight over the coming days, along with more starts from Jake Cave, as the Twins navigate all of these newfound injuries.
In the meantime, they also seek answers that haven’t been apparent for these extra-inning and bullpen troubles.
Though Taylor Rogers struck out all four batters he faced and Duffey allowed only one hit in 1 1/3 innings, Robles faltered in the seventh by allowing the game-tying blast to Heim. With no other high-leverage options to turn to, that erased a slim lead created by Max Kepler’s leadoff homer and Willians Astudillo’s two-run single in the third inning as part of a three-hit day.
“It’s a combination of us having to hold the other team with some very thin margins, and yeah, we expect our guys to be able to do that and do that often,” Baldelli said.
And when Astudillo and Josh Donaldson both struck out to start the home half of the 10th, failing to bring home the automatic runner for the sixth time in seven attempts this season, it served as a reminder that the Twins’ current troubles extend beyond another injury to their superstar center fielder.
“Could there be pressure? After seven of them, could that be something that guys are thinking about? I think everyone’s thinking about it at one point or another when you approach those situations,” Baldelli said. “But it still doesn’t mean we can’t refocus on what we have to do.”