The Minnesota Twins have emphasized that when it comes to Byron Buxton, his recovery process will be taken one day at a time. On this day however he reached a fairly significant milestone for the 2020 season: Live swings.
It happened in front of a near-empty minor league stadium. There were no fans, no fielders and no pressure. A congregation of coaches and a smattering of players lined the wall behind the plate and lingered in the dugout. Buxton’s first live action in the batter’s box since last August didn't exude the gravitas that perhaps the moment should have.
In this moment, one of the players with the most electrifying tools in the game, was inching closer to his return.
What was Buxton’s instant analysis of the hacks?
“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,” he said. “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.”
On Tuesday, Buxton faced a quartet of Twins pitchers, including a couple of Baileys — Homer and Ober -- as well as Bryan Sammons and Lachlan Wells. The field was empty besides on the mound and at the plate. Catchers called pitches and occasionally announced a count. Buxton saw about 16 pitches in all, including a pair of split-changes from Bailey.
“I'm glad he's over here and I don't have to deal with that split-change anymore,” Buxton said after the session. “Oh my goodness. It was good.”
For the Twins, having Buxton in center field and adding his speed to the lineup to give the opposing battery panic attacks is a massive weapon. After all, in 2019 the Twins were 62-25 when he played, which is certainly notable, but Rocco Baldelli feels that there is something extra that Buxton brings to the team.
“There are a lot of skill sets that you see a fair number of in the big leagues, his skill set is not one you see very often,” Baldelli said. “When he does make these plays, there's an energy and it becomes contagious. It gets our team and his teammates a confidence when he's out there. That's something that he does.”
Buxton’s emerging leadership is becoming more evident too. During the live session, once the pitchers were done for the day, Buxton would walk out toward the baseline and greet them, giving them a knuckle smash and offering words of encouragement. In regard to his shoulder recovery, Buxton noted that the little things, like a healthy day after live swings, makes a difference. It’s possible, too, that little things such as a passing platitude to a teammate makes a difference.
As far as his progression, if all goes well Buxton says he will see live pitching again on Thursday and Friday. Once comfortable with that, he will begin game action but there is no timeline for that -- which is something the manager and player agree upon.
“His comfort and progression and health are the most important thing,” said Baldelli. “I don't have a schedule for Byron Buxton. Our training staff does not have a schedule for Byron. He's going to show us what his schedule will be by how well everything goes as it is laid out.”
“We are all on the same page,” Buxton said. “Each and every day we take it one day at a time. Today was the first day of live BPs and it felt good.”
What does it mean for Opening Day?
“Obviously I want to make Opening Day, but if the situation isn’t here, it’s not here,” he said matter-of-factly. “Keep doing what I’m doing, keep working hard, and go from there.”
One day at a time.