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Kepler returns to Twins lineup, plays through bruised lower back

Minnesota Twins right fielder Max Kepler (26) hits a two RBI double in the eighth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park in Detroit on Sept. 21, 2017. Rick Osentoski / USA TODAY Sports

CLEVELAND — Twins right fielder Max Kepler, who bruised his lower back/hip area while making a throw home over the weekend in Detroit, was back in the starting lineup for the series opener against the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday, Sept. 26.

Kepler took three rounds of early batting practice at Progressive Field, where he has six of his 18 career road homers. He also did some running to prove to assistant athletic trainer Tony Leo and Twins manager Paul Molitor that he was ready to play again after sitting out Sunday's game at Comerica Park, where Kepler has homered four times.

"I think he has a little bit of pain," Molitor said. "We think it's more a bruise than any type of pull or anything like that. We feel our risk is relatively nonexistent. He's excited to be back in there and he should be, and I'm glad to put his name down."

Kepler, 24, has played in all but 14 games this season, hitting .244 with 19 homers, 30 doubles and 68 runs batted in. His numbers have ticked up across the board despite season-long troubles against left-handed pitching.

No additional treatment was needed on Monday's off day, Kepler said.

"I just rested," he said. "They told me just to rest and take it easy."

Like fellow outfielders Byron Buxton and Robbie Grossman, Kepler was able to shake off a late-season injury and keep playing.

Automatic Rogers

After struggling to a 22.50 earned run average with three homers allowed in a two-week, six-outing span on either side of the July 31 trade deadline, lefty Taylor Rogers has slowly been working back into form.

Rogers has made 19 total outings covering 13K innings over the past two months after leading the team with 47 appearances (40⅓ innings) over the first four months.

"He was just having a little trouble finding that curveball," Molitor said. "He used to be able to throw that pitch over with his eyes closed, and it just wasn't there for a while."

Rogers' ERA since Aug. 6 is 0.71, and he has handled back-to-back outings four times in September.

"He's a big part of our bullpen," Molitor said. "He's my best left-handed option when the game's on the line. He's pretty icy. I don't think too much fazes that guy. That's why I call him 'Rog-a-matic.'"


Molitor said he hadn't heard any news Tuesday on injured third baseman Miguel Sano, out for the past 38 days with a stress reaction in his left tibia. "When I don't hear things, I assume things haven't changed much," Molitor said.

With his next homer, Kepler will give the Twins five 20-homer seasons for just the third time in Minnesota history. Kepler would join Brian Dozier (32), Miguel Sano (28), Eddie Rosario (27) and Eduardo Escobar (20). The 1986 Twins (Gary Gaetti, Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek, Tom Brunansky and Roy Smalley) and 1964 Twins (Harmon Killebrew, Bob Allison, Tony Oliva, Jimmie Hall, Don Mincher and Zoilo Versalles) also spread the power around.

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