Byron Buxton returned from his injury hiatus just when his replacement in center field, Jake Cave, was getting it together at the plate. That’s good for Cave and good for the Minnesota Twins, who might have another regular opening in right.
Max Kepler left Wednesday’s 8-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox after legging out an infield single, and later scoring, in the second inning. The initial diagnosis was groin tightness, but the Twins won’t have an update until before Friday’s doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers at Target Field.
On Monday and Tuesday, the Twins got three veterans back — Buxton, starting pitcher Michael Pineda and third baseman Josh Donaldson — from long absences. In addition to Kepler, second baseman Luis Arraez left Wednesday’s game with soreness in his left knee.
“Any time you have guys go down, not be able to finish a game, deal with something — whether its mild or something more than that — yeah, it’s always hard,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “But we always have ways to pivot and guys we’re going to lean on when that happens. It’s not a matter of if it’s going to happen. It’s a matter of when and the circumstances.”
Whether or not Kepler misses any substantial time, Cave, 27, will help. The Twins are dedicated to keeping Buxton healthy down the stretch, and gave him the night off on Wednesday. Filling in, Cave went 2 for 4 with a home run that that started the scoring. He’s batting .308 with four RBIs and two runs scored in his past 11 games, after hitting .125 in his first 11.
On Tuesday, Cave scored the tying run after tripling as a pinch-hitter in a 3-2 victory over Chicago.
“I was hyped,” he said after the game. “The team was hyped for me, maybe even more hyped. It was awesome. I want to see that clip because I know I was kind of losing my mind a little bit when I came in the dugout.”
Cave misplayed a single into a double on Wednesday, but he also tracked a long line drive to the center-field fence for the final out, and on Tuesday made an impressive leaping catch of a short line drive in a tight game. His performances helped the Twins end a six-game losing streak with two straight wins.
Matt Wisler got a rare opportunity on Tuesday, one made even more intense by the circumstances. Baldelli called on him to close a 3-2, come-from-behind victory that would end a six-game skid.
When he was asked to warm up in the eighth, Wisler acknowledged, “I was kind of taken aback,” but he retired the side in order, striking out two for his first save since 2016.
Wisler, 27, was with the Atlanta Braves, and a regular starter, when he earned his only other career save. He was claimed off waivers from Seattle after last season and signed a one-year deal for $725,000.
“It was cool,” he said. “Obviously, the atmosphere felt a little bit more real. Coming in in that situation, I had a little more adrenaline than I’ve had all year. That was kind of nice. But the main thing is the win is most important thing there.”
The right-hander is 0-1 with a save, two holds and a 1.08 earned-run average. In 16.2 innings, he has fanned 21 and walked 10. Baldelli said he could be called on again in a similar situation. Taylor Rogers leads the team with seven saves but has struggled at times the past few weeks, 0-3 with four saves, two blown saves and a 6.48 ERA in his past nine appearances.
“I think there are going to be opportunities for Wis to pitch late in the game,” Baldelli said. “Our bullpen has, again, been pretty damn good for us. To give those guys a day where we were able to go out there and win a tough game, and Wis go out there and pitch a huge inning for us. It is and was and will always be the type of thing you need to happen if you’re going to survive and continue to win in a major-league baseball season.”