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With Byron Buxton set to begin rehab assignment, Twins drops ugly series opener to Yankees

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MINNEAPOLIS – Minnesota Twins outfielder Byron Buxton is expected to begin a rehab assignment at Triple-A St. Paul on Wednesday. The Twins could have used him on Tuesday night.

The Twins learned before Tuesday’s 5-1 loss to the New York Yankees that their star center fielder’s knee is improving well enough to allow him to play games on consecutive nights across the river in St. Paul. Fellow star Royce Lewis (quad-strain) also began a crucial part of his rehab assignment, ramping up the intensity while running the bases during a pre-game workout.

But the good vibes disappeared soon after as the Twins played poor defense behind Chris Paddack and dropped a series opener to the Yankees. Center fielder Willi Castro made an early mistake and he and Austin Martin each allowed another runner to advance 30 yards with poor decisions as the Yankees pulled away early.

“It was surprising,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It was very different from us. It was very different from the brand and type of baseball we played. We defended very consistently. We made plays. We threw balls to the right base. We have been good with the closures. Overall, we did a pretty good job defensively. To see that, I was kind of like, “What was that?”

Paddack allowed plenty of hard-hit contact on Tuesday, not leaving much room for error. The Twins’ early defense and several soft hits were enough to topple him.

The right-hander escaped a first-inning jam that occurred when Castro missed Juan Soto’s routine first-inning catch that allowed for a single. The game might have been helped by the sun, but Castro didn’t see it, and Soto used the break to race to second base.

The piece was a sign of things to come.

Castro surrendered another 30 yards in the second on a bad call. With the bases loaded and no outs, Castro threw home on Oswaldo Cabrera’s sacrifice fly, allowing Gleyber Torres to advance to third base.

One play later, Austin Martin also threw to the wrong base, allowing Anthony Volpe to convert a runscoring hit into a double.

In the fourth, Alex Verdugo ripped a liner into the left-center gap for a two-out, two-run double, a difficult play on which Castro took a bad angle. It gave New York a 5-1 lead.

“We have to play a cleaner game,” Baldelli said. “I made some mental mistakes, things that we haven’t done much at all this year.”

Even without Buxton, the Twins largely continued their winning ways. Tuesday’s loss was only the team’s fourth in 11 games since Buxton was sidelined retroactively to May 2 due to right knee inflammation.

But if all goes well during a two-game rehab assignment at Triple A, Buxton could one day rejoin the Twins for a weekend series at first place in Cleveland. Buxton batted and participated in outfield drills on Tuesday and ran the bases on Saturday and Monday.

“I feel good about the way the staff and the group in the front office has kind of come together,” Baldelli said. “I have an incredible feeling about the way the players have dealt with this. No one ever apologized in that room. The boys played very competitively. They wanted it.”

Perhaps no one wants to play more than Lewis, who has been out since opening day with a severe right quad strain. Lewis has insisted for weeks that he is feeling great as he recovers from an injury that was initially expected to last around eight weeks. He has hit, taken ground balls and run at 85 percent.

How Lewis responds to the increased intensity on base could determine when he begins his own rehab assignment.

“This is a big week for Lewis in terms of volume,” Twins athletic trainer Nick Paparesta said. “The biggest thing for Royce is that you have to complete the change of direction before you put him on base because you do it with a little bit of control. Once we get on base, we’re going to try to keep it as hectic, crazy and unfamiliar to him as possible, try to do it on consecutive days, just like you would play in the minor leagues in rehab. Job. That’s kind of the next phase.

With Lewis out for nearly seven weeks, the Twins will likely build him up in the minors before returning him to action.

Meanwhile, reliever Justin Topa will be out of baseball activities for up to six weeks, according to Paparesta. Topa got a second opinion on his left knee after he underwent an MRI last Monday and was found to have a 25 percent tear in his patellar tendon.

Although there was no change in the condition of a knee that continued to frustrate Topa throughout the process, the pitcher did not know he had suffered a tear until last week. Topa has received a platelet-rich plasma injection and will wear a brace on his left knee for another week. Although surgery was an option and could happen after the season, Topa opted against it in hopes of pitching this season.

“From what I was told from the second opinion, it’s in a good place and (the doctor) thinks there’s a good chance that it will work this time and get to a point where it doesn’t bother me anymore throw times like it was this past goes around,” Topa said.

Paparesta also updated the timeline for reliever Brock Stewart, who was hoping to visit last weekend. Paparesta said Stewart may have been overzealous with his earlier assessment, but said the right-hander should throw quickly. Due to tendonitis in the right shoulder, Stewart also recently had a PRP injection.

“We have to get his arm strength where it needs to be,” Paparesta said. “We have to get his range of motion where it needs to be. … But we hope to see him throw here in the near future.”

(Photo of Buxton after a double on April 29: Kamil Krzaczynski / USA Today)