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La Velle E. Neal III and Phil Miller report on the Twins from wherever they make news

Buxton back in Twins' lineup, his confidence restored

    OAKLAND, Calif. — Byron Buxton crushed a batting-practice home run over the out-of-town scoreboard a few minutes ago, a nice reminder to his team that he’s still got an exciting repertoire of baseball skills just waiting to be put to use. The Twins’ most-hyped prospect since Joe Mauer is back in a Minnesota uniform, and he seems much more relaxed and determined than you might expect from a 22-year-old with a .195 career batting average.

    But Buxton was a different player for Class AAA Rochester, reviving all the expectations that come with being named one of the top two prospects in all of baseball for three seasons. A month of batting .336 with six homers revived his confidence, too.

    “It’s still a big jump [to the majors], but it’s always good to start off like that,” Buxton said Tuesday, shortly after arriving to replace the injured Danny Santana. “You get sent down and then you get hot again and get your confidence back.”

    He’ll bat ninth for the Twins, as he mostly did during his rough 17-game start to the season, in order to ease the transition back to the big leagues, manager Paul Molitor said. And Buxton isn’t the only player back in the lineup tonight, either.

    Trevor Plouffe, his sore knee bothering him far less than it did in Seattle over the weekend, makes his first start since Friday. And Kurt Suzuki, shaken up by a Nelson Cruz’s foul tip off his mask Saturday night, is behind the plate again to catch Tyler Duffey.

    Here are the lineups for the second of three games at O.co Coliseum:

TWINS

 

Nunez SS

Dozier 2B

Mauer 1B

Sano RF

Plouffe 3B

Grossman LF

Park DH

Suzuki C

Buxton CF

 

Duffey RHP

 

ATHLETICS

 

Crisp LF

Lowrie 2B

Vogt C

Valencia 3B

Davis DH

Alonso 1B

Semien SS

Coghlan RF

Burns CF

 

Surkamp LHP

Postgame: Nunez sacrificed on his own, and it nearly paid off

    OAKLAND, Calif. — A handful of extras from a Memorial Day loss that featured some unusual camouflage uniforms:

    The Twins had one promising opportunity to rally to victory on Monday, but it wound up as just another frustrating zero on the scoreboard. Trailing 3-2 in the seventh, Juan Centeno led off against reliever John Axford with a solid single to left. Danny Santana twice tried to lay down a sacrifice bunt, but when he was unsuccessful, he swung away at an 0-2 pitch — and blooped the ball into short left field, putting the tying run on second.

    Paul Molitor didn’t want to sacrifice again, not with his most consistent hitter, Eduardo Nunez, at the plate, but he signaled that a drag bunt would be OK, figuring that Nunez would either beat it out or at least move the runners up. But Nunez missed the bunt for strike one.

    “I gave him an option to bunt for a hit on the first pitch, but then I took it off,” Molitor said. “He ended up electing to try that on his own.”

    Nunez did, rolling the ball toward Axford, who took the sure out at first base. “I didn’t have a big issue with that, with where we were at in the game and our bullpen being fairly fresh,” Molitor said.

    Trouble was, Brian Dozier, after taking a ball and a strike, tried to pull a pair of 98-mph fastballs from Axford, and couldn’t catch up to them. His strikeout left it up to Joe Mauer with two outs, and Athletics manager Bob Melvin decided to go to his left-handed co-closer, Sean Doolittle.

    That worked out for the A’s — barely.

    Mauer took two strikes, then took two balls low and outside, all of them 94 mph or faster. Then he lashed out at the 2-2 pitch, another four-seamer, and hammered it toward right field. A clutch two-out, two-run single? Twins lead?

    Almost. But first baseman Yonder Alonso made an off-balance snag and held on to the ball, ending the Twins’ biggest — and last — threat.

    “Joe had a nice at-bat,” Molitor said. “As little as we did offensively, we were just a couple of inches from taking the lead.”

XXX

    The game featured some other strong defense, too, like Brian Dozier’s diving catch of a weak liner by Marcus Semien to end the second inning. He raced about 30 feet toward shortstop, seemed to launch himself off second base, and caught the ball inches from the ground.

    The Twins also turned two double plays, Centeno threw out Coco Crisp trying to steal, and they nabbed Semien at third base when he tried to score on a throw to the plate. Alonso was on first base when Semien doubled to the left-center wall, and he scored as the Twins hurried the ball to the infield. But Joe Mauer cut off Eduardo Escobar’s throw to the plate at the mound and redirected it to Nunez at third, just beating Semien. The A’s appealed, but the out was confirmed, saving a run when Crisp hit what would have been a sacrifice fly moments later.

XXX

    The A’s had a nice defensive play, too, but it probably made the Twins cringe. Dozier drove a pitch to the warning track in right-center, where Chris Coughlan caught it an instant before colliding with Crisp. He threw the ball to the infield to keep Nunez from moving up, then collapsed next to Crisp against the wall. Both were OK, though, after a moment to collect themselves. Still, it must have worried the Twins to see such a play, considering their regular right fielder, Miguel Sano, weighs 270 pounds or so.

XXX

    When Danny Santana was pulled from the game, Trevor Plouffe took his place, moving Nunez to shortstop and relocating Escobar into left field, the first time since Sept. 3 he’s had to play the outfield. The domino effect also moved Robbie Grossman from left to center field, where he had not played in the majors since Aug. 31, 2013. The outfield at that point: Escobar, Grossman and Oswaldo Arcia.