One impact of Miguel Sano’s absence is a lineup shuffle that Byron Buxton has been thinking about since April. He wouldn’t mind forcing Molitor to make it permanent.
Buxton batted third for the Twins in Monday’s first game, the second game in a row he had occupied that spot — but not the first time this season. The center fielder opened the season as the No. 3 hitter but went 1-for-18 with 11 strikeouts over the season’s first four games, and was moved back to the bottom of the batting order.
Buxton told anyone who asked that it didn’t matter to him — but it did, at least a little.
“It kind of pushed me to get better and put myself back in that position to contribute a little more. I told myself, ‘I’m going to get back to the 3-hole,’ ” he said. “I’ve stuck with a plan — each day, I try to get a little bit better. Even if I go 0-for-4, I try to find something positive to build on. Step by step, I’m getting there.”
Buxton entered Monday batting .365 since July 4, with a .409 on-base percentage and .588 slugging. This time, Molitor said, batting him third is about performance, not projections.
“I obviously was off by quite a margin by some of the things that happened in the spring. To be honest, some of it was more trying to build confidence in a young player,” Molitor said. “He’s on a bit of a run here offensively. He’s driving the ball, using the whole field, all the things you’re looking for. Getting him up there and maybe get him an extra at-bat is good for us.”
It probably wouldn’t have happened now, Molitor said, if not for Sano’s injury. But Buxton doesn’t mind.
“It’s very encouraging to know that I can be where I am right now, and I can contribute at the top of the lineup,” he said. “I’m pumped about it — I don’t know if that’s the right word. But I’m happy to be there, because I feel like I’m helping the team.”