KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The moment was a strange one, Paul Molitor admitted, but one that he had considered before. In the ninth inning of Monday’s victory over the Royals, the Twins manager sent Byron Buxton to the outfield and told a nine-time Gold Glove outfielder to stay in the dugout to strengthen the defense.
“Of course I don’t like it. I’m a professional athlete,” said that well-decorated outfielder, 40-year-old Torii Hunter. “I don’t feel like I’m hurting us out there. But if it’s the best thing for the team, of course that’s what he should do. Whatever is going to help us win. If you can put those fresh, fast young legs out there, hey, let them run.”
Molitor, who himself played until 42 but was a designated hitter for most of his final eight seasons, said he discussed the move earlier this month with his team’s oldest player.
“It’s something that’s probably going to happen from here on out. … He might get pinch hit for, he might get pinch run for, he might get defensively replaced,” Molitor said. “And he just said, ‘I don’t know what to tell you because I never had to face those kind of things before. But I know you’re going to do what’s best, and that’s all good.’ ”
It’s a lot easier, Hunter said, because he’s worked with and is close to the players who are slowly taking his place.
“Buxton’s so fast, Shane [Robinson] is fast, [Eddie Rosario] can fly. And Hicksie [Aaron Hicks], he’s got a great arm, and he’s fast. I understand it,” Hunter said. “The manager is trying to give us the best chance to win, and I am too.”
Hunter recalled his first few seasons with the Twins in the late 1990s, when he occasionally pinch ran or filled in defensively, “so I’ve been there. I was young then, I was 22,” he said. “But you get older. It’s no big deal. I guess I’m not as fast as I used to be, but I’m still faster than most. I’m doing what it takes to help the team.”
Molitor said he sees signs that Hunter is emerging from a brutal August slump, in which he batted .130. Hunter collected three hits Sunday in Houston and two more Monday.
“He’s fighting his way. There have been [good] signs,” Molitor said. “He’s not quite there yet, for me, to what I think he still can do. But I thought there for awhile, he really looked like he had to try to cheat and generate something to get to certain pitches. … The best thing he’s got going right now is [his] hands. He’s not going to try to muscle balls. He’s got to remember what made him a good hitter. He still has to trust, and I think he lost that for awhile.”
2016 schedule set
The Twins’ 2016 season will open in Baltimore on Monday, April 4, and Opening Day at Target Field will come a week later, on April 11 against the White Sox. It’s the second time in five years that the Twins will start with the Orioles and third time that Baltimore is their first road stop.
Major League Baseball released next year’s schedule on Tuesday, and it includes Target Field interleague visits by the Brewers, Marlins, Phillies and Braves. The Twins will travel to NL cities Milwaukee, Washington, New York and, in its final season at Turner Field, Atlanta. See the complete schedule on C7.
• Glen Perkins saw another back specialist in the Twin Cities on Tuesday, and a shot to relieve pain in his lower back is being contemplated, Molitor said. The Twins closer has not pitched since Sept. 1.
• With righthander Tyler Duffey’s innings count now standing at 171 innings this season, the Twins will skip the rookie’s next start Saturday, and use the off day to move up Tommy Milone and Kyle Gibson over the weekend at Chicago.