With Byron Buxton set to begin rehab assignment, Twins drop ugly series opener to Yankees

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MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Twins outfielder Byron Buxton is expected to begin a rehab assignment at Triple-A St. Paul on Wednesday. The Twins could have used him on Tuesday night.

The Twins learned before Tuesday’s 5-1 loss to the New York Yankees that their star center fielder’s knee is progressing well enough for him to play games on consecutive nights across the river in St. Paul. Fellow star Royce Lewis (quad strain) also began a critical portion of his rehab assignment, stepping up intensity while running the bases during a pre-game workout.

But the good vibes vanished soon after as the Twins played poor outfield defense behind Chris Paddack and dropped a series opener to the Yankees. Center fielder Willi Castro committed an early error and he and Austin Martin each allowed another runner to advance 90 feet with poor decisions as the Yankees pulled away early.

“It was surprising,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It was very unlike us. It was very unlike the brand and type of baseball we’ve been playing. We’ve been very consistently defending. We’ve been making plays. We’ve been throwing balls to the right base. We’ve been good on cutoffs. Overall, we’ve done a pretty great job on the defensive side. To see that, it was a little bit like, ‘What was that?’”

Paddack allowed enough hard-hit contact on Tuesday where he didn’t have much margin for error. The Twins’ early outfield defense and several soft hits were enough to tip him over.

The right-hander escaped a first-inning jam created when Castro didn’t see Juan Soto’s routine fly ball in the first inning, allowing it to fall in for a single. The play may have been sun-aided but Castro didn’t see it, and Soto used the pause to race into second base.

The play was a sign of things to come.

Castro surrendered another 90 feet in the second inning with a bad decision. With the bases loaded and no outs, Castro threw home on Oswaldo Cabrera’s sac fly, which allowed Gleyber Torres to advance to third base.

One play later, Austin Martin also threw to the wrong base, which allowed Anthony Volpe to stretch a run-scoring hit into a double.

In the fourth, Alex Verdugo ripped a liner toward the gap in left-center for a two-out, two-run double, a difficult play on which Castro took an improper angle. It put New York ahead 5-1.

“We need to play a cleaner game,” Baldelli said. “Made a few mental errors out there, things we haven’t done a lot of this year at all.”

Even without Buxton, the Twins largely continued their winning ways. Tuesday’s loss was only the fourth in 11 games for the team since Buxton was sidelined with right knee inflammation retroactive to May 2.

But if all goes well during a two-game rehab assignment at Triple A, Buxton could rejoin the Twins sometime during a weekend series at first-place Cleveland. Buxton hit and participated in outfield drills on Tuesday and ran the bases on Saturday and Monday.

“I feel good about how the staff and the group in the front office has kind of banded together,” Baldelli said. “I feel unbelievable about the way the players have handled this. Nobody ever made any excuses in that room. The guys have played very competitively. They’ve wanted it.”

Perhaps nobody wants to play more than Lewis, who has been out since Opening Day with a severe right quad strain. For several weeks now, Lewis has maintained he feels great as he recovers from an injury originally designated as roughly having an eight-week timeline. He’s been hitting, taking ground balls and running at 85 percent.

How Lewis responds to increased intensity on the bases could determine when he begins his own rehab assignment.

“This is a big week for (Lewis) in regard to volume,” Twins athletic trainer Nick Paparesta said. “The biggest thing for Royce is you have to get the change of direction done before you put him on the bases because you’re doing it under a little control. Once we get on the bases, we’re going to try to keep it as hectic and crazy and unknown for him as possible, try to do it on back-to-back days just like you would play in the minor leagues on a rehab assignment. That’s kind of the next stage.

With Lewis out nearly seven weeks, the Twins are likely to build him up in the minors before he returns to action.

Meanwhile, reliever Justin Topa won’t perform any baseball activities for up to six weeks, Paparesta said. Topa received a second opinion on his left knee after he underwent an MRI last Monday and was discovered to have a 25 percent tear in his patella tendon.

Though nothing changed with the condition of a knee that continued to frustrate Topa throughout the process, the pitcher didn’t know he’d suffered a tear until last week. Topa received a platelet-rich plasma injection and is wearing a brace on his left knee for another week. While surgery was an option and could be after the season, Topa opted against it in hopes of pitching this season.

“From what I’m told from the second opinion, it’s in a good spot and (the doctor) thinks there’s a very high chance it’s going to work this time and get to a point where it’s not bothering me throwing every time like it was this past go around,” Topa said.

Paparesta also updated the timeline for reliever Brock Stewart, who hoped to throw by this past weekend. Paparesta said Stewart may have been overzealous with his previous estimation, but said the right-hander should throw soon. Dealing with right shoulder tendinitis, Stewart also recently had a PRP injection.

“We have to get his arm strength where it needs to be,” Paparesta said. “We have to get his range of motion where it needs to be. … But we hope to see him throwing here in the short term.”

(Photo of Buxton after hitting a double on April 29: Kamil Krzaczynski / USA Today)

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