The Minnesota Twins and host Tampa Bay Rays have taken turns notching comfortable wins heading into Sunday’s series finale, and the Twins are waiting to see about star center fielder Byron Buxton.
Without Buxton, who was scratched from Saturday’s lineup due to a sore right hand, the Twins still pounded out 14 hits in winning 9-1. They have won eight of their last nine games. The bullpen also shut down Tampa Bay, tossing five shutout innings with seven strikeouts.
In Friday’s game, which Tampa won 6-1, Buxton was hit by a Corey Kluber pitch. Images of the hand came back negative.
Second baseman Jorge Polanco hit leadoff in place of Buxton on Saturday, with Gilberto Celestino getting the nod in center field.
Buxton, hitting .271 with six homers and 11 RBIs, took batting practice on Saturday, but the speedy center fielder still was experiencing discomfort.
Meanwhile, Josh Lowe of the Rays is starting to show signs of heating up. On Friday, the rookie hit his first big league home run. He followed that up with a double on Saturday, collecting one of Tampa Bay’s four hits.
“We’ve just got a lot of key components right now who are not doing what they typically do,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said of the struggling Rays’ offense. “They’ll get out of it.”
The Rays had their three-game win streak snapped.
On Sunday, the Twins will start rookie right-hander Josh Winder (0-0, 3.48), who has never faced the Rays.
Winder, who was a candidate for the rotation before the Twins picked up Chris Paddack and Chris Archer in spring training, is making his first start after three relief appearances. In 10 1/3 innings, he has allowed four runs on seven hits, with three walks and five strikeouts.
He most recently pitched April 24 against the Chicago White Sox, surrendering one run and three hits with two strikeouts as the Twins prevailed 6-4.
With rosters expanded to 28 for April, the Twins are using their seventh starter this season. They have been going with a six-man rotation, but the impending roster reduction is expected to change that strategy. Teams will carry a maximum of 26 players, and they are limited to 13 pitchers.
“If that number shrinks going forward and does go down to 13, I don’t want to say it would be impossible, but it would be very difficult to have a six-man rotation,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said.
The Twins made a roster move on Saturday to add long-relief depth. Right-hander Cole Sands was recalled from Triple-A St. Paul, and right-hander Bailey Ober, who has made four starts, has been placed on the 10-day injured list, retroactive to April 20, with a right groin strain.
As the Twins are using expanded roster spots to ease the workloads of their starting pitchers, injuries have caused the Rays to be more creative in piecing together their rotation. They have used nine starters in their first 21 games.
Sunday’s starter is listed as left-hander Josh Fleming (2-2, 4.50 ERA). Three of his four appearances have been in relief, most recently on Tuesday against the Seattle Mariners. In two innings, he gave up seven runs — all unearned — and four hits, with a walk and two strikeouts.
Fleming is in his third season in the majors and has never faced the Twins.
The organization also is dealing with some COVID-19 issues with members of its coaching staff.
–Field Level Media