Twins' Kepler takes step backwards by landing on injured list

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Going into Saturday, Max Kepler was almost to the finish line of his injury recovery and readying to take on more center field responsibility.

By the end of the second inning, he had tumbled far enough back to end up on the injured list.

The Twins placed their right fielder on the 10-day IL Sunday because of a left hamstring strain, further diminishing an already thin outfield with Byron Buxton and Jake Cave also ssidelined. Kepler appeared to reinjure his hamstring trying to outrun a ground ball to first in the 6-5 victory over Kansas City.

"I was a little surprised that when he ran a little harder on that ball, that his hamstring, he tweaked it, I mean really is what happened," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "He's going to be down for the 10 days at minimum. I do think there's a chance that it's going to be closer to 10 days than anything else for him, but we'll see."

Baldelli added Kepler will stay home and receive treatment during the road trip to Baltimore and Kansas City that starts Monday.

In his place, the Twins recalled catcher Ben Rortvedt, who had backed up Mitch Garver from April 30 to May 21 before returning to Class AAA St. Paul. Rortvedt started behind the plate Sunday and hit his first career home run on his first pitch of the game.

Center field optionsCalling up Rortvedt instead of someone to help in the outfield was a sign of Baldelli's faith in makeshift center fielder Rob Refsnyder as well as rookies Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach.

"We're going to ride Rob Refsnyder out there probably every day when possible. And when we get to a day when we can't, if we have to make a move of any kind, maybe we will at that point," Baldelli said, adding Kyle Garlick or Kirilloff could anchor the outfield if needed. "… Truthfully, our young corner outfielders have been playing well. They've been playing confidently. I've really liked what I've seen from them both offensively and defensively and the work they're putting in defensively, especially.

"We're going to let those guys play and see what they can do."

Bringing up a catcher also frees Willians Astudillo to display his versatility, slotting in at his various positions instead of having to preserve himself for potential catching stints.

But Baldelli did say the Twins have analyzed their entire system in search of potential center fielders. Nick Gordon hasn't played the position before but could rise to the occasion like Refsnyder has. Veteran Keon Broxton at St. Paul and Aaron Whitefield and Gilberto Celestino at Class AA Wichita are other options — though Wichita players would take an extra day or so to join the big leagues since they will have to pass through AAA first to undergo all the COVID-19 protocols.

Maeda's arm soreWhile Kenta Maeda landed on the 10-day IL because of a right adductor strain, that's not what's delaying his return.

"His groin has actually healed up pretty good. I don't think it's much of an issue or really on his mind, even, right now. His arm soreness is more of what is affecting him at this point," Baldelli said. "I wouldn't call it any sort of acute injury. I'd call it more general soreness. It's in the area of his … forearm, bicep, elbow area. It's not something that he's really able to pinpoint in a very specific spot."

Baldelli said Maeda has pitched with that pain even this year, but the team would rather make the most of this IL time to shake that issue, too.

After Maeda threw a light bullpen session Friday, the Twins decided to not let him throw again for another few days. Baldelli added Maeda could play catch this coming week sometime and go from there.

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