'He's feeling good': Buxton returns to game action

March 16th, 2023

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- While the Twins continue to barrel toward Opening Day -- already just two weeks away -- must feel like the regular season is never going to arrive.

While his Major League teammates lost 2-0 to the Rays during a split-squad game at Hammond Stadium on Thursday, Minnesota’s star center fielder took another step forward from late-September knee surgery, playing in a Minor League game on the back fields at the Twins' complex.

Buxton appeared as the designated hitter, took several at-bats and reported no problems afterward, according to Twins manager Rocco Baldelli. It was Buxton’s first competitive action in nearly five months.

“I think he wanted to swing the bat better than he swung it, but I think he came out of it feeling good, which is really the only thing that I'm concerned about at all,” Baldelli said.

Prior to Thursday, Buxton had hit live pitching but not in a game situation, something that’s understandably helpful when trying to ramp up intensity and comfort for the 2023 season.

“He’s feeling good, he’s tracking really well,” Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey told Bally Sports North during Thursday’s broadcast, “and we’re targeting him for Opening Day.”

Falvey said the Twins’ biggest concern in regard to Buxton was his running. While he’s had no issues yet, Minnesota is bringing Buxton along at a metered pace to avoid any potential setbacks.

In addition to moving Buxton along slowly, the Twins also traded a pair of Minor Leaguers to the Royals for Michael A. Taylor on Jan. 23. Taylor, a Gold Glove winner in 2021, provides right-handed depth in the grass that Minnesota could use to rest Buxton early on in the season, particularly in April, as he gets his feet under him again.

Recovery time for the Sept. 27 arthroscopic procedure on Buxton’s right knee was projected at just a few weeks, but the club is understandably cautious with its star, who signed a seven-year, $100 million extension after the 2021 season.

The 29-year-old battled knee issues all season in 2022 and appeared in just 92 games because of them. Buxton’s surgery was intended to clean up the joint and alleviate some of the discomfort created by the sport’s daily grind.

Gordon back in the swing of things
Buxton wasn’t the only familiar face back in a lineup Thursday as also returned to action after missing nearly two weeks with a left high ankle sprain. The Twins utility man finished 1-for-3 against the Rays, smacking a line-drive 97.4 mph single up the middle in his final at-bat.

Gordon played second base in the game, fielded a popup, helped turn a double play and snagged a lineout to complete his day. He said he felt “definitely good” afterward and ready for Opening Day, chuckling when he was asked about fouling a pitch off of his right ankle in the fourth inning.

“That one there, I didn’t care what happened,” he said with a smile, “I was getting up.”

Baldelli said Gordon is slated to play three of the next four games as he works to get up to speed before the team breaks camp.

Ryan gaining steam
’s third Grapefruit League start was really only marred by a Tristan Gray homer on the first pitch of the fourth inning. Ryan admitted to missing the spot with his pitch but also tipped his cap to Gray, who he said “put a good swing on the ball” (it had a 110.8 exit velocity).

Ryan was stingy elsewhere, relying mostly on his fastball but also mixing in his retooled slider and split changeup to keep Tampa Bay batters off-balance.

“It was really nice to have those to go to and not just be going to the fastball in the zone,” he said. “I think just opening up more options there with those pitches was great.”

Ryan sat down the first six Rays he faced in order and looked sharp along the way, using three consecutive sliders to retire Ruben Cardenas for the first out of the second inning.

Ryan allowed two runs on five hits and one walk, and he struck out five during his four-plus innings.