Buxton’s bad luck: Twins star shelved again, has broken hand

Published 3:46 pm Tuesday, June 22, 2021

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MINNEAPOLIS — The glimpses of Byron Buxton’s game-changing, worth-the-admission skills have grown broader over the last three years as the Minnesota Twins center fielder has blossomed with the bat to match his long-superior work with the glove.

Those bursts of dominance just keep getting interrupted, though: Buxton has landed on the injured list yet again after another bout with bad luck.

In his third game back after a 39-game absence to a strained right hip, Buxton was hit on the left hand by a pitch from Cincinnati’s Tyler Mahle on Monday night and broke a bone in his pinky finger. The timetable for his return has not yet been set, as the Twins were still determining a treatment plan and whether surgery would help, but a month or so of recovery time appears likely.

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Buxton has what is referred to as a boxer’s fracture, which is fitting because he has for much of his career found himself sparring with the injury bug.

“He’s beyond upset, and that’s what I would expect from him,” manager Rocco Baldelli said before the game on Tuesday. “This is not something that’s easily described or talked about for anyone. I think the number of traumas, physically, that he’s had to deal with — and because of that, emotionally, when you have to deal with that many types of difficult things — it’s hard on you.”

Baldelli had to hold back a restless Buxton last week as his hip rehabilitation wound down, and the 27-year-old was discouraged by the wait for clearance.

“It’s a little bit tougher for him to let me go. It’s hard. You know, we let Rocco kind of stick to the managing thing and we just try to get on his nerves to let us play,” Buxton said on Saturday after his return to the lineup. “It’s just one of those things where you want him to tell you no, rather than you feeling like you’re not giving it your all.”

Nobody can truly put themselves in Buxton’s position, with 2017 still the only one of his seven major league seasons when he played in more than 60% of the games, but Baldelli can come as close as anyone to sympathizing with his plight. The third-year skipper’s own playing career was cut short by a rare disease that caused muscle fatigue.

“The only ways that I knew how to deal with them was trying not to complain, just dealing with whatever came my way, but in actuality I was probably very depressed and probably was not quite acting in the way that I thought I was and didn’t really know what to do at times,” Baldelli said, later adding: “I think Buck and I understand each other very well.”

Currently third among outfielders in the American League All-Star voting, Buxton is batting .369 with 11 doubles, 10 home runs and 19 RBIs in 27 games with a 1.176 OPS. Throw in the Gold Glove defense, and those are MVP award-caliber numbers if they could ever calibrate to a full season.

Instead, he’s on the injured list for the 11th time since his debut with the Twins in 2015 — and the 15th time as a professional since they drafted him with the second overall pick in 2012. Some of the past troubles with his shoulder have stemmed from his all-out style of diving for balls and crashing against walls that the Twins have tried to curtail, but this broken hand — much like the concussion, wrist sprains and broken toe that came before — could hardly have been prevented.

“He is so tough, and he’s willing to literally play with just about anything. He would have to not be able to walk for him to come out and say, ‘I can’t play.’ The words never come out of his mouth. You would have to literally remove him from the field to get him off the field. That’s just who he is as a guy and as a competitor,” Baldelli said.

Three others — Jake Cave, Kyle Garlick and Rob Refsnyder — who have started games in center field this season for the Twins are also on the injured list. Rookie Gilberto Celestino was recalled from Triple-A St. Paul to take Buxton’s spot.

“It’s not fair for a person who puts in the work that he does and plays the way he plays,” first base coach Tommy Watkins said. “We’ll definitely miss him while he’s out. We always do. We can’t wait to get him back.”