FORT MYERS, FLA. – Byron Buxton did something he’s never done before Sunday.
After drawing a walk against Nationals starter A.J. Cole, he took first base while lefthander Nick Lee was summoned in relief. And when Lee was ready, so was Buxton: He broke for second base on Lee’s first pitch, easily recording his first steal of the Grapefruit League season.
That’s unusual, given that Buxton has tried to steal against a lefthanded pitcher only once in his 138-game major league career, a swipe of second off White Sox starter Carlos Rodon last July. But even rarer: He ran on the first pitch.
“It was the first time I’ve ever gone first-pitch on a lefty,” Buxton said. “It’s tough for me to see lefties sometimes, so I usually want to get a look at him first. But instead of getting that look, I just took a chance.”
That’s a reflection of his new attitude toward spring camp: Push yourself outside your comfort zone.
“We all practice things that we’re already good at. It’s natural. It’s more fun to do what you do well,” the 23-year-old outfielder said. “Gene [Glynn, the Twins third base coach] told me, ‘Try stuff you’re not so good at. Make yourself better at what you don’t usually do.”
For Buxton, that means improving his running game, and particularly against lefthanders. He has the speed to successfully steal against lefties, but he admits, not always the guts.
“It’s about being more aggressive. Don’t be afraid of getting picked off or thrown out,” said Buxton, who is 12-of-16 on steals for his career. “I won’t say I was afraid of running, but when I wasn’t getting on base much, I was always worried about getting [thrown] out because I wasn’t getting many chances.”
A conversation with Torii Hunter helped him work out that hesitation, Buxton said. Hunter pointed out that not only does Rickey Henderson hold the record for stolen bases in a season with 130 in 1982, but the record for most times caught stealing, too — 42 that same season.
“That put it in perspective for me. It hit me harder than I expected,” Buxton said. “Don’t be afraid. Don’t hold back out there.”
Twins manager Paul Molitor was impressed by nonroster outfielder Drew Stubbs’ day Monday. Batting leadoff, the eight-year MLB veteran drew two walks and lined a two-strike single, getting on base all three times he batted. Two of those times turned into runs, too.
Stubbs is one of four or five candidates with a realistic shot at becoming the Twins’ fourth outfielder, with incumbent Robbie Grossman and rookie Zack Granite the front-runners. Might the journeyman Stubbs, who has played with six major league teams, wrest that job away?
“I’m open-minded about it,” Molitor said, particularly since his righthanded bat is a good fit on a team projected to have two lefthanded-hitting outfielders that start. “He’s a veteran guy, he’s had some numbers. He’s got an opportunity here.”
The Twins leave Fort Myers for the first time this spring, traveling to Port Charlotte to face the Rays. Lefthander Hector Santiago will become the final starting rotation candidate to make his debut, with a two-inning or 30-pitch outing planned.