Twins get good news as Duran, Gordon and Buxton play

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Jhoan Duran backpedaled off the mound, then twisted his body and stretched for a ball that was bouncing past him in the seventh inning. He missed it, though, and dropped to one knee in the grass. Manager Rocco Baldelli and athletic trainer Jason Kirkman were there moments later, checking on the team's best reliever.

False alarm. Much to their relief.

"The sun was in his eyes, and he took a knee to regain his composure," Baldelli said. "I almost took my sunglasses off and handed them to him right there."

On a day when the Mets learned their closer will miss the 2023 season, the Twins were considerably luckier. In fact, with Opening Day exactly two weeks off, they marked a couple of significant milestones toward having their roster ready for the season.

Inside Hammond Stadium, Nick Gordon played second base and had one of the Twins' two hits in his first game since suffering a high ankle sprain on March 3. And a couple hundred yards away, Byron Buxton went 0-for-3 with a walk against Gwinnett, the Braves' Class AAA team. It was Buxton's first appearance in a game this spring, following offseason knee surgery.

"He wanted to swing the bat better than he swung it," said Baldelli, who sent bench coach Jayce Tingler to the minor league side of the Twins' complex to scout him firsthand. "But he came out of it feeling good, which is really the only thing I'm concerned about at all."

Same for Gordon, who declared himself completely healthy once again. The important thing now, after missing nearly two weeks, is to see more live pitching, Gordon said. He'll play in two of the next three Grapefruit League games, Baldelli said, probably at second base.

Gordon fouled a pitch off his right ankle — not the one he injured earlier this month — and fell to the ground for a moment. But now that he's healthy again, he's determined to stay that way.

"I didn't care what happened," Gordon said with a laugh. "I was getting up."

WBC conundrum

The knee injury to Edwin Diaz at the World Baseball Classic devastated his teammates on Team Puerto Rico and sent a collective shudder through the major leagues. But Baldelli said he's not worried about his own players (and there are five on the Puerto Rican team alone) getting hurt while away from Twins camp.

"You love having the players under your own care, being the one to supervise what they're doing. We know when you play highly competitive games, you're playing at a different pace. You're playing with a different energy," Baldelli said. "But am I worried about our players? No. They'll all likely come back in good shape and ready to play."

Rays prevail

Joe Ryan allowed two runs over four innings and the Twins' bullpen contributed five shutout innings Thursday. But Josh Fleming and three Rays relievers kept the Twins off the scoreboard completely, and Minnesota lost at home for only the second time all spring, 2-0 to Tampa Bay.

Ryan, whose ERA stands at 3.24 in three starts, threw 62 pitches, striking out five and walking only one. But Kyle Manzardo singled home a run in the third inning, and Rays shortstop Tristan Gray lined a first-pitch home run into the right-field seats in the fourth, handing Ryan the loss.

Tampa Bay's infield defense committed three errors in the cloudless Hammond Stadium sunshine, but the Twins could never capitalize, managing only two hits while falling to 8-9-3 in Grapefruit League play.

The Twins remain home on Friday, facing Baltimore in a noon CT game. Carlos Correa is expected to play for the first time since returning to camp this week following the birth of his second son last weekend.

Etc.The Twins reduced their spring roster by two on Thursday, reassigning catchers Chance Sisco and Chris Williams to their minor-league camp.