Twins’ Byron Buxton replaces injured Alex Kirilloff in playoff roster surprise

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MINNEAPOLIS — Byron Buxton is disappointed Alex Kirilloff is sitting out, but he’s also ecstatic to finally receive this opportunity.

The Minnesota Twins made a stunning move on Wednesday, adding Buxton to the playoff roster ahead of Game 4 of the American League Division Series and removing Kirilloff with a shoulder injury. Because they removed Kirilloff from the roster, he automatically would miss the Twins’ next playoff series were they to advance. The Twins face elimination in Game 4 and would need to beat the Houston Astros in the next two games to advance to the AL Championship Series, which begins on Sunday.

Out since Aug. 2 with a right hamstring strain and a right knee injury, Buxton learned about the move while driving into Target Field at 12:30 p.m. Though he played in the 2017 AL wild-card game at Yankee Stadium, Buxton missed the 2019 playoffs with a shoulder injury and was limited by concussion-like symptoms against Houston in 2020.

Rehabbing for more than two months, Buxton told The Athletic he hoped to get an opportunity to play in the postseason, but is upset it comes at the expense of Kirilloff.

“Pretty badly,” Buxton said. “Obviously, not for somebody to get hurt for me to have to go in. But like I said, it was just all about staying ready, even though you know the situation might not happen. It’s more so all about them in there, too. They kept me going. The trainers kept me going, coaches kept me in it and without them, just day by day, just keeping me going, I probably wouldn’t have been able to come out here without that. It’s a big testament not just to me going in there doing my work, but just them making sure that they know how tough it is for me to be doing what I’m doing. So they they definitely kept me going.”

The Twins originally hoped Buxton’s sore right knee would heal in time for the start of the playoffs last week. They used the time spent on the IL in August to try and build Buxton up in order to get him back in shape to play outfield and not merely be limited to designated hitter.

Buxton played in 85 games this season, all at DH. He batted .207/.294/.438 with 17 home runs in 347 plate appearances.

But as he rehabbed, Buxton began to experience right knee soreness, which stopped his minor-league rehab assignment several times. Buxton participated in a live batting practice session in Houston on Friday. He homered and doubled off reliever Jorge Alcalá at Minute Maid Park.

“Anyone that’s followed our team knows what he’s gone through this year,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We think right now he’s at a good enough spot where he can help us, I would say, probably in smaller spurts. I think everyone knows what that probably means. Could be a big at-bat. Could be going out there to run for us in a particular spot. I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of bulk to the work that he could put in, but he’s available to us, and he’s a very dangerous player and a guy that can make things happen on the field.”

Still, Buxton hasn’t run much and he might not play in Game 4.

“Do what I can,” Buxton said. “Every day is different. One day at a time. Like I said, we take it one day at a time. You don’t get too high. Don’t get too low. Stay even keel. For me, I stayed even keel, kept doing my work, and like I said, it’s unfortunate about AK. But me staying ready allowed me to have this opportunity. … For me right now, I’m not even worrying about what I can do, it’s what I can do to help the team. I’ve got a whole different mindset. So it’s kind of just coming in and not changing what we’re doing.”

The Athletic’s Aaron Gleeman contributed to this story.

(Top photo of Byron Buxton: David Berding / Getty Images)

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