AL Central Notes: Buxton, Crochet, Tigers

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Twins outfielder Byron Buxton has dealt with many injuries throughout his career, which has led the Twins to use him exclusively as a designated hitter so far this season. However, it seems that was not simply a choice they made about protecting him from future injuries. “From the beginning of the year, he has not been physically able to play in the outfield,” manager Rocco Baldelli tells Do-Hyoung Park of MLB.com. “If he was, he would be out there. If we even thought that it was possible that he could play in the outfield right now, he would be out there.”

Buxton underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in September of last year and seemingly recuperated enough to play but not enough that the Twins want him out on the grass. “Nothing has really gone up or down on that scale since the beginning of the year,” Baldelli said. “It hasn’t gotten closer. It hasn’t gotten further away. It’s basically in a similar spot. He is basically in a similar spot as he was in the beginning.”

Of course, the Twins could have opted to have Buxton start the season on the injured list and then activated him once he was 100% healthy, but it seems they preferred to have his bat in the lineup even without any defensive contributions and with diminished capabilities overall. Buxton’s sprint speed of 29.3 feet per second this year is roughly in line with last year’s 29.1 figure, though he has been steadily declining since hitting 30.9 in his rookie season. That seems to line up with the assessment that his knee hasn’t gotten fully healthy.

It might also be impacting him at the plate, as he’s hitting .209/.313/.428 on the year. That translates to a 106 wRC+, indicating he’s still been above average but below his own typical output. He hit .258/.316/.558 from 2019 to 2022 for a 136 wRC+. His .259 batting average on balls in play might point to some bad luck but his hard hit rate and average exit velocity are also down from last year. He’s also been struggling more of late, slashing just .149/.273/.266 since May 5. All hitters go through slumps, of course, but whether or not the knee is hampering him will be an interesting situation for the Twins to monitor as the season progresses.

Some more notes from the AL Central…

  • The White Sox put left-hander Garrett Crochet on the injured list yesterday, retroactive to June 17, due to left shoulder inflammation. Right-hander Jimmy Lambert was reinstated from his own IL stint in a corresponding move. Crochet was drafted in 2020 and was quickly launched into the majors just a few months later. He’s since been able to post quality results out of the bullpen with a 2.69 ERA thus far, though injuries have also been an issue. He went on the IL in 2021 due to a back strain and then had his 2022 wiped out by Tommy John surgery. He returned this year but is now back on the IL after 10 outings. There hasn’t been anything to suggest this current injury is especially concerning but it’s yet another roadblock to him building up his workload. He has expressed a desire to return to starting pitching someday but has only been able to log 70 1/3 major league innings in his career thus far.
  • The Tigers have faced a number of challenges in their rotation this year, which each of Eduardo Rodriguez, Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning, Spencer Turnbull, Alex Faedo and Beau Brieske currently on the injured list. Given all of those absences, it’s hardly surprising that the club’s starters have a collective 4.91 ERA that places them 25th out of the 30 clubs in the league. Things could be on the verge of improving, however, with most of that group nearing returns. Chris McCosky of The Detroit News takes a look at the different hurlers and their rehabs, with Skubal and Manning seemingly the closest since they are already on rehab assignments at the Triple-A level. The Tigers are just 32-41 coming into today’s action but are only 3.5 games off the lead in the weak division. Getting some young starters back in the mix would surely help them stay afloat in that wide open competition. Manning had a 3.43 ERA last year but has been limited to just two outings so far this year due to a fractured fifth metatarsal in his right foot. Skubal had a 3.52 ERA last year but has been out of action since undergoing flexor tendon surgery in August.

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