Another outfield injury for Twins forces Gordon back out to center

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Byron Buxton trotted around the bases at CHS Field, having homered for the second time Thursday in his minor league rehabilitation game with the Class AAA Saints. At approximately the same moment 10 miles to the west, Nick Gordon trotted to center field at Target Field, answering the Twins' emergency call.

Minnesota's hobbled season just keeps getting weirder.

Yankees slugger Aaron Judge played center field for the third time in his major league career Thursday, an unlikely fill-in choice that has received plenty of attention. But Judge's 21 career MLB innings at the position made him the most experienced center fielder in this game, by far, especially considering his 26 innings of experience in the minors over an eight-year pro career.

Gordon? He had played the position for one inning as a pro — Wednesday night's ninth. The Twins hope he is a fast learner.

"He seems ready to go. He's been working out there," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said Thursday of his decision to insert Gordon into a Twins loss one night earlier. "We got his feet wet a little bit yesterday. Not a ton went on. But that could change."

It changed in a hurry.

In what has become a near-nightly ritual, a Twins player had to leave the game because of injury Thursday — this time Alex Kirilloff, who sprained his left ankle while jumping for a ricochet off the right field wall in the first inning. Kirilloff stayed in the game and singled in the bottom of the inning, but he clearly was favoring the ankle, so the Twins removed him as a precaution.

One problem: There are no outfielders left. Rob Refsnyder is hurting worse than Kirilloff after staining a hamstring while running out a double Tuesday. Kyle Garlick and Max Kepler are on the injured list, and Buxton is on a rehab assignment that Baldelli insists won't be rushed. Gilberto Celestino, who has played 24 games above Class A, was the starting center fielder but moved to right when Kirilloff went down.

And that left Gordon, who didn't play the outfield in high school, either.

"Nick's kind of still at the point where he does need to go and spend the time in center," Baldelli said before circumstances forced him to use someone with virtually no pro experience. "So he's doing that now. He's kind of preparing himself for when that real moment of action starts."

A transaction of some kind is virtually assured before the Twins open a weekend series with Houston on Friday. Buxton, out for nearly five weeks now because of a strained hip, could be activated, or Brent Rooker, who has batted .275 in his past 14 games, could be recalled from St. Paul. Rooker is the last remaining player on the Twins' 40-man roster who is not on either the major league team or the injured list.

Pitchers in flux, too

Righthander Kenta Maeda came through his four-inning rehab start for St. Paul well, and it's possible that he will simply be activated from the injured list in time to start Monday at Seattle. But the Twins rotation is in flux at the moment, too, Baldelli said. Bailey Ober, who started against the Royals on Sunday, remains on the roster and could receive another start if the Twins decide to give Maeda one more rehab start.

And Randy Dobnak's status remains unclear, too, after a torn fingernail affected his pitches during Wednesday's start. A stint on the injured list has not been ruled out.

"Bailey did a nice job in Kansas City. He's put himself in a position where he could help us," Baldelli said of Ober, who gave up one run in four innings against the Royals. "We have some things to line up and sort out."

Kepler recovering

Kepler "is about 85 percent" recovered from a hamstring strain, Baldelli said, and though he won't travel to Seattle next week, it's possible he could rejoin the team in Texas in a week.

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