FORT MYERS, Fla. – Byron Buxton announced his arrival to spring training on Tuesday with a loud crack of the bat, rifling a double to the right-center field wall in his first plate appearance in a major league spring training game this season.
Carlos Correa blasted a two-run homer to left during the next at-bat, and the duo put the Twins ahead 2-0 in the first inning. Perhaps the first of many back-to-back hits for the pair.
“Felt good when he started with that double. I was like, ‘All right, here we go. It’s feeling like the regular season all over again,’ ” Correa said. “Yeah, definitely got excited to see him back out there.”
While the Twins were pleased that Buxton, easing back following offseason knee surgery, returned to the batting order Tuesday, that’s all they are going to see during the rest of spring training and the opening of the regular season.
Apologies for dipping into another sport’s lexicon, but it looks like the Twins will practice load management with their All-Star center fielder throughout the regular season. Particularly during the first few weeks.
“He’s going to DH at the beginning of the year,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He’s going to DH and get out there and be in the lineup as our DH the vast majority of the time. Him in the lineup excites me. That’s what I want and that’s what our medical staff [wants] and that’s what Buck have been working towards all spring.”
Buxton hasn’t appeared in 100 games in a season since 2017, when he played in 140. Despite all his offseason work and planning by the Twins, he played in just 92 games last season, a season that ended in August because of a hip strain. He had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee following the season. Over the past four seasons, the Twins are 166-113 in the games he appears in.
“What we’re trying to do is to get a full season of games and at-bats from Buck,” Baldelli said. “because we’re a different team when he’s out there and healthy and playing.”
Meanwhile, Joey Gallo started at first base on Tuesday during the Twins’ 5-2 win over Tampa Bay. He might be needed to play there if Alex Kirilloff is not ready following wrist surgery.
Jorge Polanco’s availability for the season opener already is in doubt. Polanco battled left knee tendinitis late last season and has been taking it easy in camp. With Opening Day a week away, there’s not enough time for Polanco to get enough games and plate appearances to be ready.
That means Kyle Farmer, whom the Twins traded for during the offseason, could be used there. Donovan Solano and Nick Gordon can play there too.
The Twins had a whopping 32 players land on the injured list last season, and some of those injuries are lingering into 2023. In Buxton’s case, they wish he could play in a rubber uniform.
The Twins’ approach to the offseason included adding players who give them a better chance of absorbing absences than a year ago.
“When you go through stretches like we did last year and see the depth get eroded, some of it you can’t perfectly plan for,” chief baseball officer Derek Falvey said. “But every year we are trying to figure out, especially when we feel like we have a talented roster and deeper roster, how you are complementing that roster with really good fits.
“Any time you can give a regular [a day] off and plug in a guy who, situationally, is almost as good as that regular, you’re not necessarily pulling up a bench player to go get a couple hundred plate appearances for you over the course of a season. You have a chance to win a few more games.”
This offseason, it seemed like Falvey wasn’t just buying or trading for players to come off the bench, he was looking for insurance.
The Opening Day lineup in Kansas City could include Gallo at first for Kirilloff, Gordon at second for Polanco, Farmer at third for sore-shouldered Jose Miranda, Michael A. Taylor in center for Buxton and Trevor Larnach in left for Gallo.
A regular-season pitch hasn’t been thrown yet, and Falvey already is submitting insurance claims.