So far, so good for Twins’ outfielder Byron Buxton

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The Twins didn’t start Thursday first in the American League Central, or even particularly close, 6½ games behind first-place Cleveland after a 4-2 loss to second-place Kansas City on Wednesday.

So, it hasn’t been perfect for the Twins, who officially played one-third of their season Tuesday in the second of a four-game series against the Royals that ended Thursday afternoon. But it hasn’t been terrible, either.

Despite missing Royce Lewis since he injured a quad muscle after two at-bats (single, home run) in the season opener — and watching AL Cy Young Award finalist Sonny Gray leave in free agency — they were five games over .500 and solidly in the division race before Thursday’s 12:10 p.m. first pitch.

And Byron Buxton is back in center field, where he has been consistently among the top few defenders in baseball since he made his major league debut in 2015.

“It’s good,” Buxton said Thursday. “Good to be back in center.”

Buxton on Thursday made his 39th appearance of the season, and his 32nd in center.

It had been a long wait. Bedeviled by hip and knee injuries last season, Buxton played in only 85 games last season before being shut down on Aug. 1. Every one of those appearances was as the Twins’ designated hitter, a tough blow for a player who takes as much pride in his defense as the 2016 Platinum Glove Award winner.

But the Twins were trying to get as much as they could from Buxton without exacerbating his injuries. He had knee surgery on Oct. 13 and was a full spring training participant from Day 1.

Being able to pencil an 8 next to Buxton’s name has been a boon for manager Rocco Baldelli and the Twins. He entered Thursday hitting .252 with three home runs and 15 RBIs and 18 runs scored. In Tuesday’s 4-2 victory over Kansas City, he was 2 for 2 with a triple and stolen base that led to him scoring an insurance run in the eighth inning.

“He’s been really diligent, which he continually does, and mentally he’s always ready to go,” Baldelli said. “He’s always in the right frame of mind to compete. That’s been something we’ve been talking about and looking for, and this year, I think, it’s coming together.”

Buxton is a wildly talented player who started for the AL — and drove in the winning run — in the 2022 All-Star Game. But he has played only one truly full MLB season, when he made 140 appearances in 2017.

Still, the Twins signed him to incentives-laden, seven-year, $100 million extension on Dec. 1, 2021, and he was explosive when he was able to play in 2022, 28 homers, 51 RBIs and 61 runs scored in 92 games. But 2023 was difficult, another hot start ended by injuries.

“It was,” Buxton said. “But that’s part of it.”

“He’s learning what he has to do — some things that he has to accept, some things that he has to do, some things he has to stay diligent on,” Baldelli said. “He’s doing all those things well and we see him out there. We play better (21-17) when he’s out there.”

As for spending last season as the team’s DH, Buxton said it was probably the best plan available.

“I mean, I wasn’t able to just go play center the way that I would have wanted to, and in retrospect, yeah, that was probably the best option that we had,” he said.

It has already been better this season.

Lewis getting closer

Lewis was in the lineup for Class AAA St. Paul on Thursday in Rochester, N.Y., where the third baseman continued his rehab assignment. He batted second and was 0 for 3 with two strikeouts in a 6-3 loss to the Red Wings.

In four games with the Saints, Lewis is 3 for 15 with a double and stolen base.
If his rehab continues apace, it seems likely Lewis will finish the six-game series with the Saints this weekend and join the Twins in New York for a three-game series against the Yankees starting Tuesday.


Starter Brady Singer (illness) was a late scratch for the Royals, who replaced the right-hander with lefty Daniel Lynch IV.

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