FORT MYERS, Fla. – Byron Buxton was in the middle of the Twins’ big inning Friday, and from an unusual spot. It’s possible it won’t seem that unusual before long.
Batting third in the Twins lineup for the second time this week, the center fielder lined a double to left-center during the Twins’ five-run second inning, one of four run-scoring, two-out hits. But the Twins didn’t score again, and they settled for a 5-5 tie with the Orioles at Hammond Stadium, but manager Paul Molitor sounded intrigued by his latest unusual lineup.
And it helped him solidify a decision he’s been contemplating.
“One thing I’m pretty sure of is, you won’t see Byron leading off. He’s got more value in a lot of places,” Molitor said of his speediest player. “I have the right to change, [but] that’s what I’m thinking right now.”
Ervin Santana, meanwhile, struck out six Orioles in a four-inning return to Twins camp after his 10-day World Baseball Classic interlude, allowing only an unearned run and four hits. Santana will make his final Grapefruit League start next Wednesday, in preparation for pitching the 2017 season opener on April 3.
How the lineup around him will look has become a preoccupation for Molitor lately, and the apparent strides Buxton has taken over a year ago makes the tinkering even more captivating. Buxton has seven doubles and a home run this spring, is batting .263 in Grapefruit League play, and has played with far more self-assurance.
“I’m like everybody — we’re pleased,” Molitor said. “The way he’s gone about his at-bats and his work, it adds to his confidence and ours as well [about] how we use him.”
Buxton is not necessarily the third hitter in the order, but he won’t bat ninth, as he has in 104 of his 123 career starts, either.
“Extra-base potential, steal a base with two outs, opportunities to drive in runs — we’ve learned to break things down a little bit deeper,” Molitor said.
The lineup went Brian Dozier-Max Kepler-Buxton-Joe Mauer on Friday, and they produced four straight run-scoring hits and a 5-1 lead in the Twins’ big inning, But Michael Tonkin gave up a home run to Chris Johnson in the sixth inning, and Drew Rucinski gave up a three-run shot into the right-field seats by Orioles first baseman Trey Mancini in the seventh, tying the score. It was declared a tie after nine innings; the teams also tied 6-6 on March 2.