At one point during Sunday’s series finale against the Cleveland Indians — the Twins’ final meeting in their home park this season against the three-time defending AL Central champions they are trying to unseat — Rocco Baldelli’s team featured two infielders playing out of their normal positions; the third-string catcher behind the plate; a pitcher who started the season in Class A; and two outfielders who didn’t yet have a major league hit.
This probably isn’t the way the rookie manager envisioned his first stretch drive to look. Then again, Baldelli said earlier in the week, it’s not a bad challenge, just a different one.
“All you can do is play the guys you have,” he said, “and trust that the depth you’ve been counting on pays off.”
A team is more than its stars, or even its starters, in other words. But the Twins, after Baldelli spent five months trying to ward off injuries and diminish the fatigue inherent in a six-month season, find themselves doing more triage than fielding drills, nursing injuries more than scoring runs.
After one of the most shockingly successful seasons in franchise history, this rash of injuries, ailments and incidents is undermining any chance they have of ending their 28-year World Series drought.
“We’re hoping to play for a while,” Baldelli said of October’s major league playoffs. “We want to make sure we’re set up in the best possible way to do that.”
That will take some doing, because the dinged-up outnumber the injury-free at this point:
Designated hitter Nelson Cruz is playing despite a ruptured tendon in his left wrist, and missed the past two games when it became sore once more. He has spent two stints on the injured list because of the wrist.
Outfielder Max Kepler has been playing despite a “knot” in his left scapula, a discomfort that’s gotten worse recently and forced him out of two games in the past week. Tests Monday showed no damage.
Eddie Rosario endured a sore left shoulder and elbow on the Twins’ most recent road trip. The outfielder has stayed in the lineup — though he is hitting only .161 with one extra-base hit in September.
Miguel Sano has a sore back that limited him to designated hitter Saturday and prevented him from playing at all Sunday.
Sam Dyson? Sore biceps. Marwin Gonzalez? Stiff oblique. C.J. Cron? Bothersome right thumb. Jake Cave, Kyle Gibson and Mitch Garver? A variety of conditions that they are fighting to overcome.
And hanging over all this is the prospect that Byron Buxton, after consultation with an orthopedic surgeon in California about his shoulder injury, might have his season end in an operating room.
“We’re not rushing our guys back at this point, from any of these injuries,” Baldelli said. “They’re really not injuries you can rush back from.”
All teams must weather injuries to various extents — the Indians, after all, are missing three-fifths of their starting rotation, plus switch-hitting slugger Jose Ramirez — but this onslaught seems particularly cruel, given Baldelli’s emphasis on rest and recovery.
“You never know if it’s actually going to play out — health-wise and [injured-list] days — and really help you. You hope it does, you really do,” Baldelli said. “I do think there are benefits to not running guys out there every single day. Getting off their feet actually recharges them, not only physically, but mentally, too.”
That applies even when the players declare themselves ready to return to the lineup. Cruz, for instance, sat out Saturday when his bothersome left wrist flared up again but asked to hit Sunday. Baldelli overruled him.
“He wanted to play. He was petitioning to play, but with the off day coming up, basically it was my decision to hold him out one more day,” Baldelli said. “He’s going to be fine, but an extra two days of not swinging can help him. So we’re [willing] to sacrifice him getting four or five at-bats.”
The players mostly appreciate that care, Gonzalez said. He hasn’t played since Aug. 27, when he strained an oblique during an at-bat against the White Sox. He could play now if he had to, Gonzalez said, but he understands the extra time.
“I’m trying to be back as soon as possible at 100 percent,” said Gonzalez, who took some practice swings Friday and Saturday. “I’m a lot better, but I need to make sure there’s nothing there. I want to be 100 percent [healed] and not 80, because one bad swing can get me out for the season. That’s what we don’t want.”