Back on defense, Buxton makes return to center field with Saints

Byron Buxton drifted to his right and caught a fly ball off the bat of Columbus' Kyle Manzardo in center field. That ended the top of the third inning at CHS Field in St. Paul on Wednesday night.

This was also the first out Buxton had recorded in center field since he caught a line drive by Texas' Nathaniel Lowe in the sixth inning at Target Field on Aug. 22, 2022.

Buxton left the next inning because of a hip injury that cost him the rest of the 2022 season. He returned in 2023 as a full-time designated hitter. He showed occasional power but frequently struck out and was batting .207 in 85 games.

Because of a hamstring strain, he last played Aug. 1. As he recovered, the Twins' strategy became to discover whether he could return to center field.

That happened Wednesday in the Saints' 6-1 victory over Columbus.

Buxton went 1-for-2 with a single, two walks and a run scored. He was untested in center in seven defensive innings, catching that routine fly and fielding a ricochet off the wall.

Alex Kirilloff, out for a month because of a strained shoulder, also started a rehab assignment. He was the DH and went 1-for-5 with an RBI single and two strikeouts.

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The Twins said earlier that Buxton and Kirilloff would not be available for postgame interviews.

Derek Falvey, the Twins' president of baseball operations, was in attendance and offered these comments by text:

"From my perspective, it was fun to see Byron out there tonight. Not a ton of defensive action, but for game one in the field, I think you hope a few routine plays knock some rust off.

"I'm sure getting the chance to see some live pitching outside of live batting practice was another benefit. Working a couple of walks and squaring up a couple balls was a bonus.

"Just good to think about him healthy and tracking back toward our club."