OAKLAND, CALIF. – Byron Buxton played his 24th game of the season on Monday, precisely the same number that Carlos Correa has played. Those numbers probably won't remain so comparable once Correa comes off the injured list later this week.
But, the shortstop insisted Monday, that's no grounds for criticizing the center fielder.
"They probably don't know the game of baseball," Correa said of critics of the Twins' plans for scheduling regular days off for Buxton in hopes of keeping him, and in particular his chronically sore right knee, healthy all season. Correa said people who make derogatory comments "about our best player, probably one of the best players in the game, then you don't know what you're doing."
Buxton and Correa debuted in the major leagues six days apart in 2015, yet Correa has appeared in 776 games since then, plus 79 in the postseason, while Buxton has played in 520 combined.
"He wants to be out there every day. When he's on the field, he's been performing at the highest of levels. He has 11 homers already," Correa said. "When you look at Byron and his knees, this early in the year, that's something you've got to be careful with. And you've got to take the necessary precautions in order for him to stay on the field. I'd rather have him for 120 [games] of a full season than have him for 50 because he's trying to do too much."
That philosophy is informing Correa's recovery from being hit by a pitch on the middle finger of his right hand, too. Once he learned the bone was not broken, he believed he would return in just a day or two, but he backed off once he realized the pain wasn't easily ignored. It's still not completely gone yet, either, though he believes it'll only be another day or two.
"I've been hitting with a pad on my finger [which] makes it pain-free. And throwing is still a little uncomfortable — I'd say a lot when I try to throw hard. It's tough trying to get the backhand all the way to first base," he said. "But I would say we're pretty close. I'm hoping to play at some point this series."
Correa took early batting practice Monday and hit some towering home runs, then stood in the batter's box while Devin Smeltzer threw his bullpen session, in order to get a look at live pitching. He took some ground balls, too, and said he was unhappy with his ability to throw the ball from deep in the hole at shortstop.
"The last thing to come to him is really just cutting it loose, letting it go, throwing-wise," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "But even that is in a pretty good spot right now. … We could see him out here this series."
And Buxton? The Twins have an off day Thursday, and Baldelli, who on Sunday discussed the Twins' goals of getting him into more than 100 games for only the second time in his career, hasn't revealed whether his leadoff hitter will get any additional time off.
Correa said he has discussed the merits of guarding his health with his teammate.
"If your knee bothers you early in the year, you cannot push through that. It's not so bad where he has to go on the IL, but playing every day, every game for 10 days in a row, it might get to that point," Correa said. "So I'd rather him miss one game in every series than go on the IL for a long time. It's just a smart thing to do."