ANAHEIM, CALIF. – Byron Buxton is batting only .186, but his return to the Twins lineup on Thursday night was met with open arms.
The speedy center fielder was activated from the 10-day disabled list after he recovered, enough, from a hairline fracture of his left big toe. The fracture might or might not be fully healed, but it is well enough for Buxton to tolerate some discomfort while he plays.
Buxton, who missed 21 games, said he began to feel better earlier in the week while working out in St. Louis. He went 0-for-2 with two strikeouts and a walk in the Twins’ 7-4 loss to the Angels.
“Cutting wasn’t too bad,” Buxton said. “Nothing I could not tolerate. So that was my key that I was able to get back at it and try to help us as much as I can.”
The Twins optioned outfielder Ryan LaMarre to Class AAA Rochester. LaMarre hit .324 in 20 games.
Max Kepler, who made the majority of the starts in center field while Buxton recovered, was back in right field against the Angels for the first time since April 12.
And, like that, the Twins’ first-choice outfield is restored, a group that coined the phrase, “Nothing falls between us except raindrops.”
Twins players gravitate toward Buxton, and they missed his presence in the lineup. Even when he’s scuffling at the plate, his ability to routinely make stunning catches in the outfield and make an impact on the game with his speed has energized the club ever since he made his major league debut in 2015. It’s an element many clubs don’t have, and the Twins say they feel there’s a different vibe when Buxton is not in the lineup.
“We decided to get him back up here was going to work,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “It is not true for every injury or every player. But his impact on the game, over and above of what he might do with the bat, is pretty significant that we felt it was the right thing to do.”
The Twins lost 11 of 12 games and fell seven games under .500 after Buxton went out but have since stabilized, having won five consecutive games heading into a four-game series against the Angels this week.
Buxton’s DL stint began on April 17 when he came down with a migraine before a game against Cleveland in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and was scratched from the lineup. He missed the two games in Puerto Rico and the entire three-game series in St. Petersburg, Fla., that followed. But he began to feel better that weekend, and the Twins decided to send him to nearby Clearwater — where Class A Fort Myers happened to be playing — to get some at-bats.
It seemed like a reasonable decision at the time. The Twins could ensure that Buxton’s symptoms were gone, and he could face live pitching. But the move backfired when Buxton fouled a ball off his foot, suffering the fracture.
Molitor said the decision to activate Buxton from the DL without a rehab stint this time had nothing to do with what happened in Clearwater.
“He was in a position after the migraines where he had a few days before he was eligible to come off the DL to take advantage and go ahead and get some at-bats,” Molitor said.
The Twins, and Buxton, hoped he would be able to run on the toe in a few days, but he felt too much pain.
“It was frustrating,” Buxton said, “but that’s baseball.”
Now nearly a month after playing in his last major league game, Buxton is back. And he might celebrate in an odd way when he gets to the outfield and sees the center-field wall.
“Just run into the wall,” Buxton joked. “Break myself back in.”