Byron Buxton showed up to the Minnesota Twins clubhouse wearing a cast on his left arm. It wasn’t a surprise to anyone, he’s been placed on the 60-day injured list after having surgery on the labrum in his left shoulder. The bigger surprise is that the Twins are on pace to win the AL Central for the first time since 2010 without their star center fielder.
“It’s kind of that next-man mentality,” said Buxton, a football fan who grew up in Baxley, Ga. “No matter who you stick out there, no matter where you’re sticking them at, we play. We go out there and we play hard. We have a lot of fun.”
Max Kepler has taken over the bulk of the starts at center field this season, and has been an adequate defensive replacement while having a breakout season offensively. But he’s run into injury problems of his own, and Jake Cave, LaMonte Wade Jr. and Ryan LaMarre have had to replace him recently.
Nobody on the roster can truly provide what Buxton does in the field, however. Few players in the majors can. But the Twins have still been able stave off the Cleveland Indians and remain one of the most potent offenses in baseball without him.
His presence was welcomed in the clubhouse on Friday, even though he can’t help Minnesota on the field this year.
“[It’s] normal besides the fact that he has a box under his elbow,” said Rocco Baldelli when asked about Buxton being back. “Dealing with these types of situations are not easy and I know that, we all know that, but Buck’s place in this clubhouse is lofty.
“He’s extremely well respected and I think guys were waiting for him to get back here. We talk about the energy that he brings. He brings it whether he’s playing or not. He lights up the room and I’m glad he’s able to be back here with us this quickly and spend some time with the group.”
Buxton says that things went better than anticipated, but it will take 4-to-6 months for his labrum to heal.
“That kind of takes away the frustration of being in a cast,” said Buxton when asked about being around his teammates again. “Obviously, I want to be out there, but just being around them and seeing how much they’re enjoying the game and seeing the things that we’re doing, that keeps it fun, enjoyable, and allows me to stay in the game.”
Buxton’s impact hasn’t just been in the clubhouse. He hit .262/.314/.513 with 10 home runs and 30 doubles in 87 games this year. It was the expected progression from his 2017 season, where he hit .253/.314/.413 with 16 homers and 14 doubles. Had he hit 20 homers this year to go along with his improving slash line this season, it would have been considered a solid bounce-back after playing only 28 games last year due to injury.
The Twins have had more than enough offense this season, of course. It’s his defense that sets him apart. It’s also been the cause of some of his injuries, including the shoulder subluxation he suffered after running into the wall in Miami on Aug. 1. He said he knew something was wrong immediately, even though it was masked a bit by the adrenaline coursing through his veins.
“I just hit it at an awkward angle. I know I felt it when I dislocated it,” he said. “We all were optimistic that I wouldn’t have to get surgery. I wanted to try to do everything I could to rehab and get back. (His rehab in Class A) Cedar Rapids was kind of that the insurance of me knowing what I needed to do next. The toughest thing was me accepting that I had to have surgery.”
He says it took some convincing to have the surgery. He appeared as a defensive sub in five games in early September before deciding to shut it down for the year.
“I talked to everybody,” he said when asked who helped him make his decision. “Everybody in the clubhouse. Talked to my parents. Talked to my wife. It was a group of people that I talked to.
“I had a lot of different ways I could have went and we were all on the same page. That was the biggest thing for me — to not interfere with what we were doing. We’re doing some crazy things this season. Even though I’m done, I’m able to watch and the things we’re doing are still incredible.”
Incredible, in part, because they have happened without his superstar presence on the field.