FORT MYERS, Fla. — For the first time this spring, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli had the opportunity to pencil Byron Buxton and Carlos Correa across the top of the lineup.
It took the duo just eight pitches to give the Twins a two-run lead with Buxton blasting a ball into the space between right-center field and Correa following with his first home run of the spring.
“I told him that I just needed him to come back so he could inspire me once more. She felt good when she started that double,” Correa said. “I was like, ‘Alright, here we go. It feels like the regular season all over again. Yeah, I was definitely excited to see him out there again.”
Buxton has been catching all of his at-bats this spring in the backfields in live batting practice and, more recently, in minor league games. Tuesday marked the first time he played in a Grapefruit League game.
“It felt good. It felt good to come back and be back with the guys playing again,” Buxton said. “That puts things in perspective with how close we are to the regular season.”
He finished Day 1 of 3 with a strikeout in the Twins’ 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays at Hammond Stadium.
Buxton was the team’s designated hitter to start Tuesday’s game, a role he filled many times last season, and Baldelli said he would fill it early in the season.
“I’ve got my mind going, ‘Oh, you’re okay if you go out and catch fly balls and do this.’ So my teammates say, ‘Yeah, stay here and do your thing.’ But for me, it’s more about being with the team,” Buxton said. “They understand. It’s good. Everybody understands. Everyone on the same page. It helps when you know everyone has your back and you can get out and go when you’re ready.”
Baldelli said Buxton, who is returning from season-ending knee surgery, is healthy and doing very well. But the Twins’ goal is to keep his bat in the lineup as much as possible. That’s best accomplished by having him DH to start the season rather than having him run center field.
As a result, Baldelli said Buxton would be DH “the vast majority of the time” at the start of the season.
“Him in the lineup excites me. That’s what I want and that’s what our medical staff and … Buck have been working on all spring,” Baldelli said. “I think we’ve done a good job getting him a spot where we can see an explosive bat and baserunner right now and build him out in the outfield as time goes on.”
While Buxton’s defense is incredibly valuable to the Twins, they’ve prepared well not to see a drop in position when he’s not at center by acquiring another Gold Glove center fielder, Michael A. Taylor, this offseason.
“What we’re trying to do is get a full season of games and at-bats out of Buck, because we’re a different team when he’s out there healthy and playing,” Baldelli said. “He’ll continue to keep him in a great place physically and then see what the rest of April and May brings.”
Starter Sonny Gray allowed two runs in five innings and threw 75 pitches in his start. The runs followed on back-to-back home runs in the third inning of his start. … Catcher Christian Vázquez, in his first game since competing in the World Baseball Classic, drove in a pair of runs with a single. … Correa, who finished the day 2 for 3 with two runs scored: “I feel cheeky at the plate.”