OAKLAND, CALIF. – Joe Mauer, who knows a few things about ignoring social media critics, has some simple advice for anyone who doubts Byron Buxton’s future as a major leaguer.
“He’ll be fine. He’s a one of the most talented players I’ve ever seen, but you’ve got to give him a little time,” said Mauer, the only player in Twins history drafted higher than his overall No. 2 teammate. “He’s still realizing what he has and how to play this game. Nowadays, people get impatient for that, but give him a chance. He’s going to be a good one.”
The Twins have faith in that, too, all the more after watching how he responded to a gruesome start to the season in the majors and a humbling demotion to Class AAA Rochester after 17 games. His seven hits in the majors suddenly blossomed into 39 for the Red Wings, his every-other-at-bat strikeout rate tumbled to an acceptable one-in-five. And his confidence?
“I went down and got myself back together,” Buxton said shortly before his new start, triggered when Danny Santana injured his left hamstring Monday. “You get sent down and then you get hot again and get your confidence back.”
Not to mention his batting stroke. Buxton — his timing a mess and his approach oddly tentative by the time he was sent down — temporarily adopted a leg kick as a timing device, and gradually excised it as his results improved.
“Once I got the timing down, everything just kind of sunk in,” he said.
Everything but his numbers. Buxton batted .336 in his six weeks in the minors, and he got hotter as his stint went on, collecting seven extra-base hits in his final seven games.
Buxton was 1-for-4, including a sixth-inning double to left, in Tuesday’s 7-4 loss to the Athletics. He struck out twice and flied out to deep right-center in his other at-bats.
“I don’t think anybody was worried about him,” manager Paul Molitor said. “There has been some tweaking to his swing, particularly in the area of how he’s getting set. Picking that foot up a little bit more, trying to increase his balance, giving him a little bit more time to recognize and drive pitches a little more.”
True, but none of the hype surrounding Buxton will be fulfilled if he doesn’t hit. And after three unimpressive, though brief, stints in the majors in the past year, aren’t the Twins concerned that doubts might be creeping in — not to his impatient critics, but inside his own head?
“I really don’t think the early stage of the season was something that he couldn’t handle. … He stayed fairly strong through that,” Molitor said. “The strikeouts were tough to deal with for a guy who can run the way he can, and he knows that. But he’s trying to fill in some of those gaps that were holding him back from being a consistent player up here.”
Molitor immediately restored Buxton to the Twins’ lineup, albeit batting ninth once more rather than his familiar leadoff spot he occupied in the minors. Buxton said the adjustments he made while in Rochester — some on the advice of Torii Hunter, who called two or three times a week to share his expertise — shouldn’t be difficult to apply when facing major league pitchers.
“I was just able to slow it down better than I was here. Not chasing too many pitches out of the zone. I’ve been more aggressive to the fastball and swinging at better pitches,” Buxton said. “I didn’t change anything. I changed my mentality. Just try to hit the ball hard [up the middle]. That allowed me to keep my hands through the ball a little bit more and drive the ball a little better.”
And his mental state?
“You’ve got to have the confidence, you’ve got to believe in yourself,” Buxton said. “Know that you’re going to get a hit, and go up there and swing at good pitches and put the ball in play.”
Such a simple game.
“It was time to get him back,” Molitor said. “So I’m looking forward to seeing him play.”