CLEARWATER, Fla. — The most important development for the Twins’ 2020 season was not what happened in their 5-1 exhibition game loss to the Phillies on Tuesday, March 10.
No, it was more than two hours south in Fort Myers, where back at the team’s spring training complex, center fielder Byron Buxton got his first look at live pitching since he had surgery to repair his shoulder labrum last September.
It was another important step for Buxton in his progression. He saw pitches from starter Homer Bailey and a few minor league pitchers, and he came away feeling positively.
“It’s the first day, so I was just up there basically looking at pitches, trying to swing at good pitches, see how the arm feels,” Buxton told reporters in Fort Myers. “Felt pretty good, so take the positive side out of it, put the ball in play a little bit. It’s a good day all around.”
While Tuesday was an important step for Buxton, another test comes on Wednesday in seeing how his shoulder has reacted to its latest challenge.
“I just come in and hope my shoulder ain’t sore tomorrow,” he said. “It’s little small things like that that kind of increase and make positives out of your days.”
Buxton said he hasn’t had pain in his shoulder for about a month, though there is some soreness as he gets it cranked up. He said he believed the plan was for him to hit again on Thursday. The next step after live batting practice is getting him into game action.
Though Opening Day is a little bit more than two weeks out, and Buxton has played in a game action, the Twins have ways to get Buxton more at-bats than just Grapefruit League games if he needs them to get himself prepared.
“We have a lot of conversations with our players, seeing how they’re feeling, seeing if they’re looking for anything else. We have ways of getting our guys more at-bats when we need to,” manager Rocco Baldelli said.
“We have a lot of backfield scenarios, we have a lot of guys throwing sim(ulated) games, we have pitchers on the minor league side who are in great shape and they’re ready to throw bullpens to our guys. We have all these things and we definitely take advantage of all these things throughout the spring.”
And while the hope is to have their center fielder back by Opening Day, the Twins will not rush Buxton just to have him available on March 26.
“Obviously, everybody knows where I’m at. Obviously, I want to make Opening Day. But if the situation isn’t here, it’s not here,” Buxton said. “Keep doing what I’m doing, keep working hard, and go from there.”
As teams and leagues continue to monitor the spread of the coronavirus, Major League Baseball has joined in with other leagues in closing off clubhouses to media and others, limiting it to just what is deemed “essential baseball personnel.”
As of right now, Major League Baseball has committed to playing out the rest of the spring training schedule and starting the season on time with no changes, though the situation is quickly changing and will be continuously monitored. In addition to postponing or canceling games, playing games in front of no fans could be a possibility.
On Monday, Santa Clara County, which includes the city of San Jose, banned all events with more than 1,000 attendees in the area. The ban will last through March and affect the NHL’s San Jose Sharks, among other teams. On Tuesday, the Ivy League announced the decision to cancel its conference basketball tournaments. The start of the Nippon Professional Baseball season in Japan has been postponed, and sporting events in Italy will be played with no fans through April 3.
The Twins are scheduled to begin their season in Oakland and then head to Seattle. California and Washington have been hit particularly hard by the virus.
“Personally, I’m not overly concerned with traveling and going to play our games, but there’s a lot of different perspectives to take into account when you’re having that discussion,” Baldelli said of playing in those two cities. “That’s just my personal perspective about myself and my family.”
Royce Lewis, the Twins’ No. 1 prospect, hit a solo home run off Philadelphia starter Zack Wheeler, who the Twins targeted this offseason. Outfield prospect Brent Rooker, Willians Astudillo and Ehire Adrianza had two hits each in the game.
Sean Poppen started for the Twins and pitched three innings, giving up two runs on seven hits.