CHICAGO — In response to several injuries, the Minnesota Twins have used seven center fielders this season. One of them had 14 games of professional experience in center, another hadn’t played there since college. One hadn’t played the outfield, period, since he was a preteen.
Among the many problems the Twins have had this year, finding playing for healthy outfielders hasn’t been one of them.
But while their Opening Day starting center fielder is still hurt — Byron Buxton remains out after a pitch fractured his left hand last month — three other outfielders are nearing their return.
Jake Cave, who has been out since mid-May with a stress reaction in his back, has been on a rehab assignment with St. Paul for a week, hitting .381 while there. Rob Refsnyder and Kyle Garlick joined him on rehab assignments of their own on Tuesday.
Refsnyder finished the day 1 for 2 with a home run, and Garlick went 1 for 5 with a run driven in. And while neither is expected back in the next couple of days, it’s a positive development for the Twins.
“We want them to … play, get the at-bats, increase their workload, make sure they’re responding well and not feeling anything as they build it right back and get their timing at the plate and things like that,” manager Rocco Baldelli said before the Twins’ game against the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field. “We will figure out more over the course of the week as those guys play on and make sure that they are themselves.”
Refsnyder, a journeyman who had made a strong impression upon the Twins this season, has been out since June 14 with a hamstring strain. Garlick has been sidelined by a sports hernia since June 9.
The Twins are hopeful Garlick’s injury is one that won’t require surgery, although Baldelli said with that type of injury “there’s just no way to know until he goes out there and plays.”
“We have several guys over there playing right now and what we want to do is just continue to build these guys up … baseball-skills-wise and also health-wise,” Baldelli said. “We’re not shooting for a specific date with any one of them. We’ll let their play and the way that their bodies are coming back from the games they’re playing in tell us what we need to know.”
Shortly before Ryan Jeffers was optioned to Triple-A in April, the catcher talked about how difficult it had been for him trying to find a rhythm and get his timing down at the plate while splitting time with Mitch Garver behind the plate.
That arrangement didn’t seem to particularly benefit either player; once Jeffers was reassigned to St. Paul, Garver took off at the plate and Jeffers was able to get into sync at Triple-A.
Jeffers returned to the Twins when Garver got injured on June 1. Seven weeks later, Garver is back, and Baldelli said playing time between the two would be “a rough split.”
“Garv’s physical state and where he’s at is going to matter,” Baldelli said. “If he’s healthy and swinging the bat the way he was swinging the bat, he may get an extra game a week and Ryan may get one less game a week. But that being said, they both have to be ready to go every day, and whoever’s playing possibly a little less is going to have to be able to handle that.”
While the Twins have often kept three catchers on their roster in the past few years, they currently have just two after optioning Ben Rortvedt to make room for Garver on the active roster.
If they happen to need a third in an emergency, they’ll turn to their best defensive player.
“Our first volunteer was Josh Donaldson, who actually has some experience behind the plate. Josh will not be behind the plate regardless, even though he’s mentioned it several times,” Baldelli said. “In a true emergency, (Andrelton Simmons) is probably our guy to. … If there’s a guy that you’re going to trust to figure something out on a baseball field, and it has to do with catching the ball and thinking, it’s going to be him.”