MINNEAPOLIS -- One of baseball’s best outfields is a shell of its former self.
Already without Gold Glove center fielder Byron Buxton since Aug. 2, the Minnesota Twins might be without Max Kepler for a while after the regular right fielder left Sunday’s 5-2 loss to Cleveland because of pain in the scapula area behind his left shoulder.
Kepler, who has 90 RBIs and a team-leading 36 home runs, was pulled after an uncomfortable at-bat in the first inning. He said he has been playing with the pain for “months” and that it is limiting his motion.
Asked when it bothers him, he said, “Throwing and hitting.”
Kepler was scheduled to have the shoulder examined on Monday, the same day Buxton was expected to visit with California orthopedic specialist Neal ElAttrache about the left shoulder he separated while catching a fly ball at the wall Aug. 1 in Miami.
There was no news about either player on Monday, Sept. 9.
“We’ve been a little bit banged up,” manager Rocco Baldelli said regarding the state of his outfield. Kepler and Jake Cave had been playing in center and right, but Cave has missed the past two games because of what the team called a mild groin strain in his left leg. Marwin Gonzalez, a good corner outfielder acquired this season for his versatility and bat, is out indefinitely with an oblique strain.
Left fielder Eddie Rosario, who missed several weeks with a high ankle sprain at midseason, is the only regular starter projected to be available when the Twins open a three-game series against the Washington Nationals at Target Field on Tuesday. They woke up Monday with a 5.5-game lead in the American League Central pending Cleveland’s late game against the Angels in Anaheim.
“It’s a pretty good lead. We are the ones who are in first place,” said Ehire Adrianza, another infielder who has played the outfield this season “We know that those guys won’t give up, we’ve got to keep fighting for these last 20 games, but we should be good. We just need to win series, and we’re OK. Five and a half, to me it’s a pretty good lead.”
Infielder Luis Arraez and catcher/infielder Willians Astudillio have played the outfield some this month, and the Twins traded cash to Atlanta for Ryan LaMarre on Saturday. He joins Rosario, September call-up Ian Miller and rookie Lamonte Wade Jr. as the only other healthy outfielders.
“You look around and we have a handful of guys who are not available, but we’ve had a lot of guys step up over the course of the year, and step in and play anywhere, hit anywhere in the lineup, and find ways to get it done,” Baldelli said. “So, we’re going to continue to go with that plan, and I see no reason why these guys won’t continue to get the job done.”
Baldelli said designated hitter Nelson Cruz could play Tuesday against the Nationals. He has missed the past two games since aggravating his left wrist on an awkward swing last Friday.
“I think we’ve got a pretty good shot of having Nelly back in the lineup soon,” the manager said. “I can’t say it’ll be Tuesday; it could be Tuesday, it could be Wednesday, I really don’t know.”
Baldelli said Sunday he was keeping Cruz out because Monday’s off day would give him three solid days of rest. Cruz missed 10 games in August after rupturing a tendon in the wrist on a similar swing.
Wade got his first major-league hit with an RBI single in the seventh inning of Sunday’s loss, so he’s now batting .111 in eight big-league games. But his on-base percentage is a beyond-robust .556.
Wade has been hit twice by pitches and drawn seven walks in 18 plate appearances. He also has scored four runs.
“I’m just trying to get on base any way I can,” he said. “I don’t know. I’m just trying not to give away any at-bats. I’m seeing it. I feel I’m seeing it pretty well; just not doing anything by driving it. I’m taking swings when I can get them. But a walk is as good as a hit right now. You get on base (and) we’ve got a lot of guys who can bring you around.”
Still, that hit was a relief.
“Absolutely,” the rookie said. “You actually feel like a big leaguer now.”
Jose Berrios will start Tuesday, followed by Martin Perez on Wednesday and Kyle Gibson on Thursday. It will be the first start since Aug. 30 for Gibson, who has been out because of ulcerative colitis.