MINNEAPOLIS — Byron Buxton wants to appear in the postseason in the worst way possible but knows his body is preventing him from doing so. Health isn’t as much a factor for Nick Gordon as is a lack of opportunity and a long layoff.
Yet as disappointed as either may be about being left off the first-round playoff roster, they refuse to let it hinder the Minnesota Twins. Instead, both players are focused on being positive influences for however long this Twins postseason run goes.
While the beginning of the American League Division Series brings the potential for either to be added to the team’s playoff roster before Game 1 on Saturday, Gordon and Buxton won’t let the decision affect how they can still impact the team. From Gordon riding the dugout rail and being Cheerleader No. 1 to Buxton bringing his endless energy to the dugout, the pair are enjoying their team’s run as much as anyone.
“It’s bigger than us,” Gordon said. “It’s bigger than any individual player. Of course, everybody wants to play, everybody wants to be in the playoffs and playing. Injuries and things happen and you can’t always control that. But I mean, you got to take it for what it is. Look at this situation, look where we’re at. We’re trying to win it all. We’re trying to get to it. If you have that one guy or those two guys that are more mad about not being on the field rather than us being here in general, that can wear a whole team down.”
Smiling from ear to ear about the team’s Game 1 victory and getting “the monkey off our back,” Buxton remained upbeat even when the topic shifted to his exclusion from the 26-man roster.
Buxton traveled with the team to Houston on Thursday as he continues to rehab a sore right knee in hopes of being activated.
Agreeing it is difficult to sit, Buxton remains hopeful about playing in the second round but sounded far from certain of the possibility.
As one team source said, the main issue is consistency. For every half-step forward Buxton takes, he seemingly takes a full one backward and struggles to stay on the field. Buxton thinks he could play but also acknowledges he’d be limited.
“It wouldn’t probably be at the speed I want it to be and that’s one of those where I don’t want to hurt the team,” Buxton said. “It’s kind of one of those where I don’t want to put the team in a bad spot with me coming back at 50, 60, 70 percent. There’s guys in here that have done a great job of keeping us where we’re at. It’s kind of knowing your body, knowing who you are and just putting yourself in a place to help the team.”
Buxton originally went on the injured list retroactive to Aug. 2 with a strained right hamstring. As he tirelessly worked to build up in order to play center field, Buxton’s right knee began to bother him.
Despite the soreness, Buxton continued to push forward in hopes of making the roster, efforts which manager Rocco Baldelli described as close. But ultimately, the Twins felt adding Buxton wasn’t the right decision.
“Buck worked incredibly hard to get back,” Baldelli said. “He can certainly look in the mirror and go, he worked his butt off to get in the best possible physical shape he could. But it was a hard, emotional talk when I spoke with him because talking about these things is difficult and frustrating, too, at times. We both were sitting in the room knowing that he wasn’t going to be able to play in this series. So the actual decision part of it of what was the right decision, we both knew what that decision was and so we made it.”
The vibes, the mood: pic.twitter.com/UKbb40HFk0
— Minnesota Twins (@Twins) October 4, 2023
Buxton remains in day-to-day mode. He’ll continue to take live at-bats, get treatment and rehab as much as possible. But there are no promises.
Gordon promises to keep bringing the energy. He may not play, but the utility man intends to provide the Twins with all the benefits a hype man can offer.
“This is an opportunity that many people don’t get in life,” Gordon said. “Regardless of what my situation is or how things happen, that’s out of my control. What I can’t control is being here for my teammates. Man, they got me so excited (on Tuesday).”
Twins mum on Game 1 starter
Nobody yet knows whom the Twins will trot out to pitch when they open the ALDS at Houston on Saturday afternoon. The likeliest candidates are Joe Ryan, who was scheduled to start Game 3 against Toronto on Thursday in necessary, or Bailey Ober, who pitched a gem in Denver to end the regular season on Sunday.
Excluded from the first-round roster because the Twins only needed three starting pitchers, Ober said Thursday’s he’s not certain he’ll make the roster in the second round but that the Twins have dropped hints he’ll pitch at some point in the series.
After going 8-6 with a 3.43 ERA and 146 strikeouts in 144 1/3 innings, Ober doesn’t intend to make a case to Twins’ decision-makers that he should start. Sent to the minors in early September for a mental and physical reset, Ober, who is at a career-high for innings pitched, has pitched great since returning.
Ober is 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 21 2/3 innings since rejoining the club on Sept. 15.
“Let the play throughout the whole year kind of speak for itself,” Ober said. “I’m not going to go in there and tell them this is what I want, this is what I demand. Just going to go out there every single day and do what I can. Hopefully whatever they think is best is what they’re going to roll with. I think every one of these guys is going to step up and do their part.”
While Ober is thriving late, Ryan hasn’t been nearly as sharp since he returned from the IL on Aug. 26. A final start in Denver sent Ryan’s post-IL ERA soaring to 4.79 in seven starts. Prior to that, Ryan had a 3.82 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 30 2/3 innings.
The Twins also could start Kenta Maeda in the opener. Maeda posted a 2.82 ERA and struck out 21 in 22 1/3 innings in his final four starts but last started on Sept. 19, pitching just once in relief on Sept. 28 since.
“There’s definitely some considerations any time you go into a series, matchups and who lines up, where your bullpen guys are going to slot and what that looks like in general,” Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. “We’ll work through that over the next 24, 48 hours.”
Falvey also hinted the Twins are likely to use 13 pitchers in the next round after bringing 12 into the Toronto series.
Correa ‘ready’ after hit by pitch
One of several scares the Twins endured in their second win over Toronto was when shortstop Carlos Correa, whose sore left heel looked leaps and bounds better, was hit in the hand with a pitch in his final plate appearance.
X-rays revealed no fractured fingers for Correa, who remained in the game. Falvey said Correa was sore but fine on Thursday, 48 hours before the team’s next game.
“It’s the postseason and he’s ready to go,” Falvey said. “He got hit pretty hard there. But good signs from what we saw (Wednesday) night from an imaging standpoint.”
All signs looked great when it came to Correa’s heel after he returned from the IL on Tuesday. Dogged by plantar fasciitis most of the season, Correa ran as well as he has all season against Toronto. Whereas his sprint speed averaged 26.5 feet per second during the season, Correa produced a 28.7 mark while beating out an infield hit. He also sped from first to third on a hit later in the game and flew across the field on Tuesday to save a run with his Derek Jeter-esque defensive play.
“It felt like I was flying,” Correa said.
— Dustin Morse (@morsecode) October 5, 2023
• Team trainers tended to Jhoan Duran after he cut his thumb on a seam of the baseball and was bleeding in the ninth inning on Wednesday. After several minutes of work, Duran was fine to pitch. He struck out three of the four batters he faced to convert his second save of the series.
• Royce Lewis isn’t sure he’ll be ready to return to third base for the Astros series. His strained left hamstring held up well enough but he’s not sure he’s ready to go any harder.
“I don’t want to push it to where I can be out for the rest of the playoffs, let alone set back my offseason,” Lewis said. “I think we’re just trying to maintain what we have and play at whatever percent I am.”
• Griffin Jax apparently channeled his inner football player when Cavan Biggio slammed into him on a grounder down the first-base line in the eighth inning on Wednesday. The reliever, who was about as electric as he’s been all season in consecutive days facing the exact same Toronto hitters, said he was simply happy to hang onto the ball.
His father, Garth Jax, played 10 seasons in the NFL for the Cowboys and Cardinals.
“Just make the play and let the body recover,” Jax said.
Writer makes mistake
Your friendly neighborhood Twins beat writer would like to acknowledge mistakes were made when he suggested the Sonny Gray-Carlos Correa pickoff play on Wednesday is the greatest in Twins history. Many readers were quick to point out the biggest is when catcher Tim Laudner fired the ball to third baseman Gary Gaetti to pick off Darrell Evans in Game 4 of the 1987 AL Championship Series.
That said, it’s Aaron Gleeman’s fault. In attempting to research the statement, said writer texted Gleeman at a very reasonable 8:45 p.m. and asked: “Can you recall a bigger (Twins) pickoff ever?”
No response was received.
The lesson: When convenient, always blame Gleeman.
(Top photo of Byron Buxton: Stephen Maturen / Getty Images)