BALTIMORE – Paul Molitor still cringes a little bit at the memory. When Kansas City shortstop Alcides Escobar blooped a short fly ball into shallow right field on Friday, Max Kepler hustled in to make a running catch. Easy play — but it was almost a disaster.
“I wasn’t very good at physics,” Molitor said, “but speed and angle and force — it looked like it was going to be bad.”
That’s because Byron Buxton came roaring over from center field at his usual top speed and began diving for the ball. Only at the last second did Buxton realize Kepler was going to make the play. “I remember trying to stick my back foot into the ground to slow down my slide,” Buxton said of the near-miss. “It was close. I just remember him flashing in front of me.”
It would be funny — and Buxton and Kepler were laughing as they ran off the field — except for one other memory. “I had a flashback of [watching] the video of his collision at Double-A,” Molitor said. Buxton was knocked unconscious and hospitalized by a season-ending concussion when he collided with right fielder Mike Kvasnicka in his first Class AA game for New Britain on Aug. 13, 2014. “When you’re fearless and reckless and communication is not always clear in big-league ballparks because of noise … ” Molitor said, shaking his head. “Whew.”
That’s why the Twins spend extra time practicing those in-between plays. Kepler and left fielder Eddie Rosario are relatively fast, and Buxton’s speed is among the best in the game, so these sort of plays are liable to occur with some regularity.
“It’s something you consciously try to practice,” Molitor said. “But in the midst of the adrenalin of trying to chase a ball down, having your ears available to try to prevent those things, inevitably they’re going to happen sometimes.”
“We work on those. Plays like that, communication comes into play,” Kepler said. “I was just late calling Buck off on that one. I didn’t think he was going to be right beside me on a bloop into right.”
Buxton is on a mission, though. As he works to get his hitting on track, he has particularly conscious of being even more valuable on defense. Plus, he’s young.
“I just treat that as a big thing for me, not wanting anything to drop. Not wanting any base hits,” Buxton said. “With the way things are going, the aggressiveness we’re playing with, we go after balls a little harder than normal.”
Which is fine, Molitor said. But be safe out there.
“There’s just not a play he doesn’t think he can make,” the manager said. “Obviously there’s a risk factor — the fact that he’s not afraid to put his body on the line. Torii Hunter played that way for years, and he came out fine.”
Phil Hughes went on the disabled list, but the Twins still aren’t certain what caused the soreness in his shoulder. All they know, after an examination Monday, is that it probably wasn’t a recurrence of thoracic outlet syndrome, which ended his season a year ago.
“There’s no constriction [in blood flow to his shoulder] that should have caused any issues,” General Manager Thad Levine said. “He’ll undergo more tests [Tuesday] to see if we can get any more clarity” about his pitching shoulder.
The Twins listed Hughes’ ailment as biceps inflammation, which while true, isn’t necessarily what caused the soreness. “We just don’t know if there’s something more serious,” Levine said.