HOUSTON — Rob Refsynder had not played in a game since June 13 when he was activated from the injured list and inserted into the Twins lineup against the Astros. Refsynder had just recovered from a concussion when he injured his hamstring, which happened to be against the same Houston club.
The outfielder will look to make up for lost time while he tries to repeat the form he was in two months ago. He was batting .321 with a .871 on base-plus-slugging percentage when he went down, making him one of the feel-good stories on what has been a down year for the Twins. On Thursday, Refsnyder reached base four times (single, double, two walks) and scored two runs.
"So the first time around, Ref did a really nice job for us," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "We know that Ref can play all over the outfield. He's a guy that I know personally, I'm familiar with. We know he has good at-bats, especially against lefthanded pitching. Very good at-bats throughout his career."
Refsnyder batted .389 with three home runs in 10 games with Class AAA St. Paul during his rehabilitation assignment. And he was called up in time to face Astros lefthander Framber Valdez, who beat the Twins in Game 1 of last year's wild card series.
"And he dealt with a pretty serious combination of muscle injuries that has kept him out for a while," Baldelli said. " But he's worked his way back. He's feeling good."
Once down to their seventh different center fielder because of injuries, the Twins now have two players in Refsynder and Jake Cave who are natural fits there. Max Kepler can play center but is more effective in right.
To make room for Refsynder, the Twins optioned infielder Nick Gordon to St. Paul. Gordon was learning to play center field on the fly in the majors and now will continue to do so while playing every day in the minors. Baldelli said the plan is to move Gordon around between left, center, third base, short and second as he continues to adapt to a utility role player.
"I think his talents fit very well with a role like that," Baldelli said. "And it does take not just the ability to do it, but the mentality and the willingness to do it."
What about Buck?
Byron Buxton, of course, is the regular center fielder. And everyone will make way oncehe's recovered from a broken left hand suffered in late June.
There's still no timetable on when that will happen.
"We probably will avoid the daily Buck medical update, but he's doing very well," Baldelli said. "He's swinging the bat. He's in the cage swinging the bat relatively lightly. He's still doing all of his running and such ad strengthening and range of motion with his hand."
At least Buxton has made some progress. Instead of taking one-handed swings to protect the left hand, Buxton is now swinging with both hands. His return will be deliberate, as everyone wants him to finish out the season once he's ready.
"He's swinging with two hands now," Baldelli said. "He's ramping that up. He's going to be starting with the tee and with the soft toss and with lighter, less impactful swings and then ramping it up from there."
Gold medal watch
Time zone challenges are making it difficult for the Twins to watch Team USA, which includes Twins players past and present, in the Olympics. Team USA downed South Korea on Thursday to advance to the gold medal game on Saturday against Japan.
Former Twin Tyler Austin hit a two-run single to help Team USA beat South Korea 7-2. He remains good friends with Cave, who has been unable to connect with him because of the distance.
"I did not get a chance to watch it," Cave said, "but I have been paying attention to stats postgame, and his wife has been posting updates so I've been loving seeing him kill it."
Righthander Joe Ryan started Thursday and held South Korea to one run over 4 1/3 innings. He's one of two pitchers the Rays sent the Twins for Nelson Cruz before the trade deadline. Another USA starter, righthander Simeon Woods-Richardson, was traded to the Twins along with infielder Austin Martin for Jose Berrios.
"I have not seen the Olympic highlights," Baldelli said. "But I know (Ryan has) pitched, he has gone out there and done a very nice job. I look forward to connecting with those guys when they return."
Lefthander Taylor Rogers has not decided whether he will have surgery but has reported that the pulled tendon in his left middle finger has improved.