Twins’ Buxton flashes leather with diving catch in center field

FORT MYERS, FLA. – Byron Buxton's health is too important to take any chances with it. As Buxton said himself after his first day in center field three weeks ago, "I'm not going to dive in spring training. It's just spring training."

So when Rays shortstop Osleivis Basabe popped a fly ball into shallow center during the second inning Saturday, Buxton said, he actually thought to himself, "I'm not diving for it."

Fifty feet later, his plan had changed.

"When I got close, I realized I could get it. And at that point, you're not going to stop me," Buxton said. "Instinct takes over. It was just instinct."

Buxton dived forward, the ball landed in his glove as he slid along the grass and a statement was made.

"I thought, I can't try not to catch it. But it's all good — I got that under my belt now," said Buxton, who also cut off Jake Mangum's potential double into the gap, holding him to a single. "I'm back where I want to be."

Back where Twins pitchers want him to be, too.

"It feels awesome to finally have him behind me," said Pablo López, the recipient of that defense. "He leaves everything out there. He wants to let the pitcher know that he will cover all the ground that he possibly can."

Taking López deep

There wasn't much the Twins defense could do about the four runs López gave up to the Rays, though — they came on four solo home runs.

But López was mostly encouraged by his five-inning, 71-pitch start, particularly by the fact that he didn't walk or hit a batter while striking out six.

"I was trying to pepper the strike zone with fastballs, and I accomplished that today," said López, who didn't throw his slider because of a fingernail problem he said was minor. "Obviously, there were a couple of pitches that were hanging in the zone where they shouldn't have. But you control what you can control, which was using my fastball, locating it well, in and out."

López, who has never given up four home runs in a regular-season game, watched Yandy Díaz smash a 1-2 changeup over the center field wall to open the game. Two batters later, Randy Arozarena crushed a nearly identical pitch, an 88 mph changeup on the inside corner, to deep left field, just missing the scoreboard.

In the fourth inning, Arozarena struck again, this time by golfing a low sinker over the fence in right-center to tie the game. And Richie Palacios put the Rays ahead by ripping a 3-2 fastball from López, whose ERA this spring has climbed to 7.07, to right field.

That seemed like it might be enough because after Royce Lewis, the Twins' RBI leader this spring, doubled home two runs and Carlos Santana singled him in during a three-run first inning, the Twins offense went silent.

The Twins, though, rallied for their first win in a week, 6-5 at Hammond Stadium, behind a quartet of minor leaguers. Jake Rucker, Misael Urbina, Keoni Cavaco and Brian O'Keefe each singled during a decisive three-run eighth.

Injury updates

Anthony DeSclafani pitched 1⅔ innings in a Class AAA spring game, striking out three Rays while walking two of the eight batters he faced.

The righthander, who has yet to pitch in a Grapefruit League game after battling elbow soreness early in camp, reached 94 mph with his fastball and struck out two batters with off-speed pitches.

Meanwhile, Caleb Thielbar, limited this spring by a hamstring strain, faced teammates Kyle Farmer and Matt Wallner in a 20-pitch live batting practice session nearby. Thielbar induced an infield popup by Farmer in his first at-bat, catching the ball himself. But Farmer then hit two home runs off Thielbar, who did strike out Wallner once.