CEDAR RAPIDS — He looped a hit the other way into right-center field in his first at-bat.
It was a single for any other player but a double for Byron Buxton. An easy one.
In just that quick nano-moment, it came back to you how fun it is to watch him run. You saw the beauty and grace of that seemingly effortless stride first hand when he played for the Cedar Rapids Kernels in 2013 and again Sunday when he played for ... the Cedar Rapids Kernels.
As designated hitter, the Minnesota Twins center fielder doubled, walked and struck out in three plate appearances during his injury rehab appearance at Veterans Memorial Stadium. Peoria scored nine runs in the top of the ninth inning to beat the Kernels, 9-5.
“Just come get some at-bats and just go from there,” Buxton said in a pregame media interview session. “We’ve got a plan for me ... I’ve got to take it one day at a time. Obviously, today I’m DH-ing, so focus on having some quality at-bats and having fun.”
Buxton has been on the injured list for Minnesota since Aug. 3, after suffering a shoulder subluxation (partial separation) in a collision with the outfield fence in a game. His abilities and range defensively are as good as they get and have led to him winning a Gold Glove.
But some have wondered if perhaps he should back off a bit when it comes to trying to make highlight-reel catches, just to help preserve himself physically. He was asked Sunday if anyone with the Twins has conveyed that message to him.
“Yeah, but nobody plays the game like I do, so why am I going to go out there and alter (his play) because of you telling me to do it?” he said. “I play the game hard, I like to go out there and make plays. It’s one of those things where eventually I’ll get smarter as an outfielder. But until that time comes, I’m going to go out there and have fun and be me. Nobody is going to change who I am.”
Buxton’s double came in the first inning against Peoria starting pitcher Colin Schmid. In the third, he got behind in the count but ended up walk and scoring on Matt Wallner’s ensuing home run.
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He got ahead in the count in his final at-bat, 2-0, in the fifth but ended up striking out on a foul tip. Buxton is slated to be C.R.’s starting center fielder Monday night when these teams play again.
“He looked good,” said Kernels Manager Brian Dinkelman. “Got that double, stayed on that changeup to right-center. Showed his speed there going from home to second on a ball that didn’t even get past the outfielders in the gap. So that was good. Had a good at-bat there with the walk. Just a little out front there in that last at-bat. But, yeah, I thought he looked OK today for having a few weeks off.”
“If I could go back today, I would,” Buxton said, when asked his timetable for a return to the Twins. “Probably a couple of days. Who knows?”
The first eight Peoria hitters reached in the brutal ninth against relievers Brian Rapp and Austin Schulfer, with 13 total coming to the plate. Starting pitcher Josh Winder did look tuned and ready to go for the upcoming Midwest League playoffs, throwing six shutout innings.
“Just unraveled really quickly there in the ninth inning today,” Dinkelman said. “Kind of gave it away there that last inning.”
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