Buxton shows progress with two-double game

Young center fielder working hard to improve approach with two strikes

Buxton shows progress with two-double game

BALTIMORE -- Before the Twins' 4-2 loss to the Orioles on Wednesday, manager Paul Molitor was asked if he noticed anything different about Byron Buxton's approach with two strikes this year from what he saw in Spring Training and the first game of the season.

Buxton, ranked as baseball's No. 2 prospect entering the 2015 season, had trouble in those situations in his first taste of the big leagues, hitting .123 (9-for-73) with two strikes, including .081 (3-for-37) with no extra-base hits after falling behind 0-2 in the count. He also opened the year by going 0-for-3 with three strikeouts in their Opening Day loss on Monday.

But Molitor said he was encouraged by the progress Buxton has been making, and it showed on Wednesday, as he went 2-for-4 with two doubles. That included an impressive nine-pitch at-bat in the fifth that saw him battle back from an 0-2 count to run the count full before he laced a two-bagger into the left-center field gap off Orioles right-hander Yovani Gallardo. It was the second career game with at least two extra-base hits for Buxton.

"It was good," Molitor said. "He converted his first couple into doubles, and his second particularly, he really hung in there. He saw a lot of pitches before he got one out there to the gap."

Molitor added it's a process for young hitters to get themselves into better counts, but sometimes even after doing that, young players such as Buxton don't quite capitalize.

"A lot of times with young hitters, you see them improve at getting back into better counts, but for whatever reason, whatever they do to get to 3-2, they don't do on 3-2," Molitor said. "Even though the pitcher needs to throw a strike, they chase out of the zone. So it's kind of a pattern."

It was the case in the ninth against Orioles closer Zach Britton, as Buxton got to another 3-2 count, only to strike out on a 97-mph fastball that had a six-inch break, per Pitch F/X data. Buxton also struck out looking against reliever Brad Brach in the seventh, but Molitor noted that at least Buxton didn't chase the third strike in either at-bat.

"Even the strikeouts, he competed really well," Molitor said. "Britton is tough on anybody and we saw that. But he gave him a battle. I haven't looked at the replay on borderline pitches, but I'm sure he's a tough guy to umpire. But he gave him a battle."

Twins right fielder Miguel Sano, who remains one of Buxton's closest friends and played with him throughout the Minor Leagues, said he noticed that Buxton looked looser on Wednesday, and that he knows what kind of impact Buxton can have once he settles in.

"He was probably a little nervous in the first game on Opening Day, just like me," Sano said. "But he helped the team. He can do anything."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.