MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins came to the ballpark Tuesday expecting to face Rangers ace Yu Darvish. By the time they started batting practice, they were preparing to hit against a different opponent — and a familiar face.
Darvish was scratched Tuesday afternoon from his scheduled start after he woke up with a stiff neck. In his place, Texas will start right-hander Scott Baker, who spent his first seven seasons in the majors with the Twins.
It’s a bit of an adjustment for Minnesota, which was ready to take on Darvish and his 2.35 ERA. Instead the Twins face Baker, who has made just one start this year and has only pitched in two games with the Rangers. The 32-year-old Baker missed the entire 2012 season after having Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and pitched in just three games for the Chicago Cubs last year.
That doesn’t give the Twins much of a scouting report to go off of in preparation for Baker’s spot start Tuesday.
"We haven’t seen him in quite a while," said Minnesota skipper Ron Gardenhire. "He’s had some surgeries and been through some arm injuries. . . . He feels great. He’s happy to be here."
Gardenhire said he found out from Texas manager Ron Washington around 2 p.m. Tuesday that Darvish wasn’t going to start. It wasn’t immediately announced that Baker was taking Darvish’s place, and Gardenhire actually had a conversation on the field with Baker before the news became official.
"It’s good seeing him. He did pretty well for us here," Gardenhire said. "It’s always fun to see him. Now we’ve got to figure out a way to beat him."
During his seven seasons with the Twins, Baker was 63-49 with a 4.17 ERA in 168 games (163 starts). He won 15 games in 2009, during which he also reached 200 innings for the only time in his career. Baker had the Tommy John surgery in April of 2012 and never pitched for the Twins again.
In his only start with Texas this year, Baker gave up six runs on eight hits — including a pair of home runs — in a 7-2 loss to Detroit on May 23. He also made one appearance out of the bullpen in long relief, giving up two runs in 5 1/3 innings of work against Colorado.
Minnesota’s offense has struggled lately, scoring two runs or fewer in its last five games. Getting the bats going against Darvish would have likely been a tall task. Darvish, a two-time All-Star, has allowed two runs or fewer in six of his nine starts this year.
Buxton still resting wrist: Twins top prospect Byron Buxton has played just five games in the minors this season due to a wrist injury that he later reaggravated. Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony said Tuesday that Buxton continues to rest his wrist, and it appears Buxton’s return is still a ways away.
Buxton is regarded by many as the top prospect in baseball, but the 20-year-old’s chances of making his major league debut with Minnesota this season were slim even before he injured his wrist in spring training. Now it remains to be seen if his setback this year will delay his arrival in the majors in 2015.
Antony noted that playing in the Arizona Fall League or a winter league remains a possibility for Buxton in order to make up some of the at-bats he’s lost in the first few months of the season.
"Will it stunt the fast track that he might have been on? Yeah, probably," Antony said. "But can he regroup and get some at-bats, play the game, maybe play some winter ball or whatever and put himself in position to get back to where he was? Yeah, I think he can."