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Molitor hearing talk about Buxton struggles

Minnesota Twins manager Paul Molitor argues with home plate umpire Alan Porter after being ejected in the eighth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Target Field in Minneapolis on April 20, 2017. Brad Rempel / USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — The Twins aren't ready to send Byron Buxton to the minors, Paul Molitor said, but the manager admitted he's heard the debate over whether the center fielder's excellent defense is worth his dismal performance at the plate.

Buxton was 0 for 2 on Thursday afternoon in the Twins' 6-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians, leaving him with four hits in 49 at bats to go with an American League-high 24 strikeouts.

Asked whether Buxton, 23, needs to refresh his swing in the minors, Molitor said, "We're not at that point, so I don't want to waste too much time talking about that, but obviously it's not an unexpected question because people are going to wonder. They're already debating: At what point does a guy being a good defensive player count enough to accept minimal offense?"

Buxton batted ninth for the Twins on Thursday but was removed for a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning. Eduardo Escobar replaced him and drew a walk.

"I really don't look forward to pinch-hitting for guys, especially when you have almost three innings to play," Molitor said. "It's one of those things where he's having a tough time getting hits right now, and you don't know how many opportunities you're going to get to get hits right now, so I made the switch."

Buxton has one hit and five strikeouts in his past 15 at-bats, but Molitor said before the game that he's noticed "little baby-step" improvements.

"I think he feels that every day is going to be the day he goes out there and barrels up the ball and takes some chances," the manager said. "He's shown a little bit of an ability to try to breathe through his at-bats and recognize (pitches) and get in some hitter's counts, rather than 0-2 every time."

Buxton, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 amateur draft, hit .287 with nine home runs in his final 29 games last season. But his .082 batting average this year is the lowest among qualifying major league players. He's one of three players batting under .100, and one of 11 under .150.

"Go around the league right now and look at how many guys are under .150 and there are (some) pretty good players," Molitor said. "It's just the whole idea that in 40, 50 at-bats, some guys aren't going to get off to very good starts.

"In this case, it's exaggerated because of who he is, the expectations we have, and the finish he had last year. Obviously, it's been something that's been paid attention to."

Molitor ejected

Molitor was ejected for the first time this season after his frustration with home plate umpire Alan Porter's strike zone boiled over after the eighth inning.

Jason Castro struck out to close the eighth when Porter rung him up on a check swing without appealing to the third-base umpire.

Molitor stormed out of the dugout and was ejected before he reached the batter's box.

"I thought there were some inconsistencies, but probably not the difference in the game," Molitor said. "I just felt on that particular check swing that it was close. I haven't even looked at (the replay), to be honest with you. But that's a hard call for him to make if he's tracking the pitch. That's what they have the rule for."

Multiple Twins players showed frustration with Porter during the game, including Brian Dozier, who struck out on a called third strike in the fifth inning.

"I don't know how much I want to get fined," Dozier said, "so I'll probably just keep quiet on the Porter situation."

Mauer power?

Joe Mauer was the only player in the Twins' lineup who started the day without an extra-base hit this season. But the first baseman ended his drought in the fourth inning with a leadoff double, which came in his 53rd at bat.

"They come in bunches," Molitor said.

Briefly

ByungHo Park is "progressing well with all baseball activities," according to an injury update provided by general manager Thad Levine. Park suffered a hamstring injury earlier this month while at Triple-A Rochester and is rehabbing in Fort Myers.

Pitcher Ryan O'Rourke will seek a second medical opinion on his injured elbow because of symptoms that have forced him to pause his throwing program.

Infielder Ehire Adrianza (oblique) will begin a minor league rehab assignment with Class A Fort Myers on Friday.

The Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.

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