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Buxton returns to center field and Margot's already flying for Twins

FORT MYERS, FLA. — The Twins consider Byron Buxton's return to center field so important, such a game-changer for the franchise, that they provided an escort to his position for him.

A team videographer ran just behind Buxton as he took the field for the first time in 2024, capturing for history Buxton's first game wearing an outfielder's mitt since Aug. 22, 2022. The competitor in Buxton made sure he got to his favorite spot first.

"Yeah, that was a little different, trying to keep pace with him, but he did good," Buxton joked. "He was fast today."

So was Buxton, though he had few chances to show it. He played four mostly quiet innings in center, with only a couple of base hits coming his way. Buxton chased down a two-out double by Phillies shortstop Trea Turner that reached the wall, but otherwise he was not tested.

"I'm not going to dive in spring training," Buxton pointed out. But the competitor in him was on display again when he jogged off the field at the end of the inning, so much so that outfield coach Tommy Watkins told him, "You walked in like you were mad you didn't catch it," Buxton said. "No, no. I was just just getting a better gauge on it. Just thinking through the process … playing smart, realizing what balls I can get to and what I can't."

He also went 0-for-2 at the plate, flying out to right field and striking out in an eight-pitch at-bat in the fourth inning.

Still, it was unquestionably a happy day for the 30-year-old Buxton, who is pain-free for the first time in several years.

"It was fun," he said with a smile. "I'm playing, so that's a positive."

His manager, who plans to play Buxton again Friday, couldn't have agreed more.

"Great to see him flying around the field," Rocco Baldelli said. "Everything that we could ask for at this point, we're getting from him. His body is responding really well. He just looks different than almost everyone else [in] the way he plays the game and the way his body moves. He looks strong, and he looks explosive right now."

Carlos Correa also made his 2024 debut Tuesday, going 1-for-2 with a single.

Margot already flying for Twins

Baldelli learned during Monday's game against the Yankees that the Twins had traded for Dodgers outfielder Manuel Margot, who is likely to serve as Buxton's primary backup. About two hours later, as he made the drive back to Fort Myers, he called the former Rays outfielder, and was surprised where he was.

"He was already on a plane. I could hear the messaging over the intercom," Baldelli said in amazement. "I've never seen anyone make the Phoenix-to-Fort Myers trip that quick."

He arrived at the Twins' compound shortly after 8 a.m., met Baldelli and his new teammates, and asked whether he was in Tuesday's lineup.

"Showing up today should tell you his character," Buxton agreed. "That's something you don't see very often, and just shows you the person he is and the character he has to make us better."

Buxton told his new teammate that he owes him a hit.

"I remember last year, he robbed me [of a hit with a diving catch]," Buxton said. "That's the first thing I told him. He just started laughing, so it was good."

Minor leaguers rally vs. Phillies

The players expected to make the Twins' regular-season roster managed only three singles in 18 at-bats Tuesday and were shut out by the Phillies. But with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, five Twins minor-leaguers staged a dramatic three-run rally and salvaged a 3-3 tie at Hammond Stadium.

Willie Joe Garry Jr., an outfielder who played at Class AA Wichita last year, smacked a bases-loaded, two-strike single to right field, scoring the tying runs and helping the Twins snap a two-game losing streak in Grapefruit League play.

Nine different pitchers threw an inning apiece for the Twins, with Griffin Jax recording three strikeouts on 12 pitches in the second inning.