Twins center fielder Byron Buxton suffered a “boxer’s fracture” — a fracture at the base of the fifth metacarpal in his left hand — when he was hit by a pitch during Monday night’s game against the Reds, manager Rocco Baldelli announced to reporters after the contest (Twitter link via Betsy Helfand of the St. Paul Pioneer Press).
It’s a deflating injury for a Twins club that only just welcomed Buxton back from a month-long absence due to a hip flexor strain this past weekend. Buxton appeared in three games, going 4-for-10 with a home run and a double, before getting hit by a pitch in tonight’s contest. Baldelli was vague when asked about an expected recovery period for Buxton, who is batting .369/.409/.767 with 10 homers, 11 doubles and five stolen bases in just 110 plate appearances this year.
Injuries have been a frequent hindrance for Buxton in recent years, although there’s little he could’ve done about an errant Tyler Mahle fastball that ran up-and-in on his hands (video link). It’s a tough-luck injury for both Buxton and for the Twins, who have rattled off five straight wins as they hope for a season-saving push in the standings in advance of next month’s trade deadline. Clearly, a Buxton injury will do them no favors in that uphill battle.
The Twins have cycled through various options in Buxton’s absence this year, although two in-house alternatives — Jake Cave and Rob Refsnyder — are on the injured list themselves at the moment. Cave’s injury, a fracture in his back, will keep him out for the foreseeable future. Refsnyder is currently mending a hamstring strain. Longtime infield prospect Nick Gordon has been getting his feet wet in center field recently, and right fielder Max Kepler has proven capable of playing a solid center field over the years. Prospect Gilberto Celestino got a brief look as well, but he was making the jump straight from Double-A and struggled considerably in 10 games and 33 plate appearances.
Even with five straight wins under their belts, the Twins are still 10 games under .500, which makes it highly unlikely the organization would sacrifice any young talent for an immediate option to help bridge the gap in Buxton’s latest absence. An in-house patching of the problem, at least in the short term, seems the likeliest route, which likely means some combination of Kepler and Gordon for the time being. Veteran Keon Broxton is on hand in Triple-A St. Paul, but he’s batting just .169/.260/.215 with the Saints and has fanned in nearly half of his plate appearances. He’d give the Twins a competent defensive option, but his offensive woes against Triple-A pitching are rather glaring, to say the least.
It’s worth noting that while the Buxton injury will only further fuel speculation about the Twins’ trajectory at the trade deadline, they’ll at least have one more chance to control their own fate, so to speak. Once the Twins wrap up a brief two-game series against Cincinnati tomorrow, they’ll play exclusively AL Central opponents for nearly a month.
Minnesota hosts the Indians for four games this weekend before a seven-game road trip to Chicago and Kansas City. They’ll close out the first half with seven at home against the South Siders and Tigers before opening the second half with four on the road in Detroit and three more in Chicago. It’d obviously take quite a run in that stretch of divisional play — especially early on — to turn the tides in their 2021 season. But with such a lengthy slate within the AL Central on the horizon, it’s doubtful the Twins will jump the trade market, even in the wake of a potentially crushing injury.