Denard Span wasn’t the Twins center fielder very often while Carlos Gomez was on the roster. Ben Revere, another lifelong center fielder, spent most of his time with the Twins in right when Span was healthy.
The Twins might be about to embark upon another two-center-fielder era.
Aaron Hicks flew to Rochester, N.Y., on Saturday night, with orders to serve as the designated hitter for the Class AAA Red Wings on Sunday as he begins his rehab stint from a strained right hamstring. And by Monday, he should be ready to play the outfield again — but not, Paul Molitor said, the position he’s played almost exclusively his entire life.
“We’ll probably expose him to a little defense other than center field,” the manager said, “just to give us flexibility.”
Just to give the Twins a potentially exceptional defense, too. Byron Buxton’s speed allows him to cover a remarkable amount of territory, and Hicks’ defense has improved with experience. Eddie Rosario, also a center fielder in the minor leagues, has above-average range and a dangerous throwing arm — he recorded his 13th outfield assist, most by a Twin since Michael Cuddyer’s 19 in 2007, on Saturday, nailing Evan Gattis at second base — from one of the corner positions, too. And they are 25 (Hicks), 23 (Rosario) and 21 (Buxton) years old.
“People are excited to see the day when Buxton, Hicks and Rosario are out there together,” Molitor said. “We’ll have to figure it out day-to-day, what gives us the best chance to win a game.”
By playing Hicks in a corner position at Rochester, Molitor seems to have decided that Buxton will inherit the middle position. Hicks has started 206 games in the major leagues, 200 of them in center, with three apiece in right and left field, all of them last season while Danny Santana played center. But Hicks didn’t sound resistant last month when asked about Buxton potentially forcing him to move.
“I just want to play. I’ll go wherever they want, as long as I’m in the lineup. I’ll pitch if they ask me to,” Hicks said. “We’re just here to win games, and I know Buck [Buxton] wants the same thing.”
He said Saturday his hamstring has healed, and he’s eager to play. “It’s been feeling really good. The last four days, I’ve been able to run and hit and do all that stuff,” said Hicks, who is eligible to return to the Twins on Friday in Houston. “They gave me the A-OK today, so now I’m going to Rochester to play some games.”
Hicks and Buxton have yet to play together in the major leagues. Buxton was recalled both times this season when Hicks went on the disabled list, and when Buxton went on the DL in July, Hicks replaced him.
Miguel Sano spent Saturday morning at the Minnesota State Fair. He spent the evening in the Twins lineup.
Both of them made him happy.
“A lot of good people,” Sano said of his fair experience, a surprise appearance at the Twins booth (along with Buxton) that included cheesecake and some foods on a stick. “They were excited.”
So was he when the team’s trainers were convinced that his right hamstring is no longer too sore to play on. Sano returned to his normal cleanup spot as the designated hitter.
“There was improvement today. We’ve been monitoring [him] pretty closely since he got to the park,” Molitor said.
Astros Rookie of the Year candidate Carlos Correa missed his third consecutive game with a sore left hamstring, but manager A.J. Hinch said it’s possible the shortstop could play Sunday.
But Houston put catcher Jason Castro on the DL after he strained his right quad Friday. Catcher Max Stassi was summoned from Class AAA to replace him.