The Twins’ season has been a disaster thus far, but they’re on the verge of getting some desperately needed reinforcements. The team announced that Byron Buxton will begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A St. Paul beginning today, and Kenta Maeda will make a rehab start for the Saints tomorrow. The 27-year-old Buxton stormed out of the gates looking like a legitimate MVP candidate, slashing .370/.408/.772 with nine home runs, 10 doubles, five steals and his typical stellar defense through 24 games (98 plate appearances). A Grade 2 hip strain has sidelined him for more than a month, however.
Maeda, meanwhile, was the AL Cy Young runner-up in 2020’s shortened season but has had a rough go of it in 2021. The 33-year-old posted solid numbers in his first three starts but didn’t tally many innings due to high pitch counts. He’s since had a bit of a velocity dip while struggling in the run-up to an IL placement of his own due to a groin strain. The Twins have trotted out a carousel of outfield options with Buxton, Max Kepler and utilityman Luis Arraez all injured, while injuries on the pitching staff have prompted the team to remain committed to veteran Matt Shoemaker in the rotation despite pronounced struggles (as explored here by Dan Hayes of The Athletic).
Some more notes from the division…
- Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said in an appearance on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM this morning that he plans to give catcher Eric Haase “as much playing time as I can” to afford him further opportunity to cement his place on the big league roster (Twitter link, with audio). The 28-year-old Haase, a Detroit native and childhood Tigers fan, has been an out-of-nowhere success story since being summoned to Detroit. The minor league veteran has tallied 74 plate appearances and responded with a .265/.324/.647 slash and a whopping seven home ruins. Hinch called Haase a “pretty good athlete,” which is why he’s seen time in left field, and suggested Haase could also handle first base. There’s a case being made to keep Haase on the roster even when the team’s other catching options come off the injured list.
- Hinch also noted in his appearance (via MLB.com’s Jason Beck, on Twitter) that right-hander Spencer Turnbull will miss “a little bit of time but not nearly as long” as the Tigers originally feared when he first alerted the team to the forearm strain that has landed him on the 10-day IL. That sounds like Turn bull is in for more than a minimal stint, but it’s good that a worst-case scenario has been avoided. The 28-year-old Turnbull drew headlines for this year’s no-hitter, but he’s been a solid starter for Detroit dating back to 2019. During that stretch, he’s logged a combined 4.13 ERA in 255 innings with a 22 percent strikeout rate and a 9.1 percent walk rate. With three years of club control remaining beyond the 2021 season, a healthy Turnbull would figure to command considerable interest on the summer trade market, though that club control also means the Tigers are under no pressure to move him if a compelling offer doesn’t present itself.
- The Royals optioned righty Jakob Junis to Triple-A Omaha this week on the heels of some recent struggles, and skipper Mike Matheny told reporters after the move that 28-year-old will stretch out for longer stints even though his eventual role upon his return to the Majors isn’t yet determined (link via Lynn Worthy of the Kansas City Star). “You can be a starter (in the minors) and that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t come back as a reliever,” Matheny said of Junis, who made four solid starts earlier this year but has been hit hard out of the bullpen. Matheny noted that Junis “should” be a pitcher who is capable both of working multiple innings as a reliever but also succeeding when plugged into high-leverage spots. The future role for Junis is surely somewhat dependent on how young pitchers and prospects like Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar and Kris Bubic develop. Junis was a solid back-of-the-rotation piece for the Royals from 2017-18 (4.35 ERA, 101 ERA+ in 275 1/3 innings) but has just 19 innings of bullpen experience in the Majors.