Souhan: That plan for resting Buxton the Twins hatched? It’s working

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More than a month ago, the Twins revealed their plan for Byron Buxton.

They intended to get 100 to 110 games out of Buxton over the course of the season with a program of rest and rehabilitation that, in a best-case scenario, would keep him functional, productive and away from the injured list.

Those numbers hit some fans in the face like a crisp jab.

Why limit the number of games your best player could play? Why would you avoid using him as a pinch hitter, designated hitter, pinch runner or defensive replacement in a close game?

Twins baseball boss Derek Falvey revealed the plan on May 15, in part to defend manager Rocco Baldelli's lineup and in-game decisions regarding Buxton.

Falvey said then that Buxton was dealing with patella tendinitis in his right knee, that swinging a bat hurt Buxton more than even running, and that Buxton required days of rest and rehabilitation to be at his best on the days he did play.

To that point, Buxton had played in 23 of the Twins' 35 games. That put him on pace to play in 106 games. The Twins viewed a healthy Buxton playing that many games as a plus, especially if Buxton remained healthy enough to play more frequently in a late-season pennant race and in the postseason.

The plan remains the same, but Buxton's knee has improved enough that the Twins have used him twice as a late-game substitute and nine times as a DH since May 15. He has appeared in 27 of the 33 games since the plan was revealed, with the team going 14-13 when he's played and 18-15 overall.

Entering Tuesday's series opener against Cleveland at Target Field, Buxton has played in 50 of the Twins' 68 games, putting him on pace to play in 119 games this season.

Byron Buxton statistics

Baseball can be counterintuitive. By restricting his games played early in the season, the Twins have increased the number of games in which he has played.

If he plays 119 games and continues to hit at his current pace, he would finish the season with:

His second-highest number of games in his career. He played in 140 games in 2017. That is the only time he has played in more than 92 games in a season. Since then, he has played in 28, 87, 39 and 61 games, an average of 54 games a year. He could pass that average this week.Totals of 21 doubles and 45 home runs, an OPS of .897 and a WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of 5.9. That's an All-Star caliber season, especially considering Buxton's defensive excellence.

If Buxton and every other player in the game finished the season with their current projected WAR, Buxton would be the 16th most valuable position player in the game.

That's not the stuff of dreams, considering that Buxton at his best may be a top-five player in the game. But it's the stuff of sustainable reality.

"I kind of regret that 100 games number, because it became this marker in so many conversations,'' Falvey said Monday. "I joked with Rocco: What are people going to say when he gets to 100 games played and it's August? 'Are they not going to play him any more?'

"I hope that wasn't the interpretation. Our view, then and now, was that we have to constantly assess where he is and how he's feeling every day. That's the most important piece. We don't have a crystal ball. Projections and plans can change. Hopefully, we can continue to increase the number of games he can play in and be thoughtful as we do so."

Falvey reiterated that Buxton "is a great competitor" who wants to play every day, but has learned that strategic days off make him a better player when he is in the lineup.

"He's certainly highly communicative with Rocco," Falvey said. "And sometimes it's not even a conversation with Rocco, sometimes he just lets the medical staff know how he's feeling."

It's late June, and Buxton is on pace to play more games this year than in his two previous seasons combined.

If the Twins are lucky, their 100-game plan for Buxton will turn into a 120-game reality.