CLEVELAND -- Brian Buscher's road to the Majors was thrown into overdrive this season, and even the third baseman admits he's been left a little awestruck by it all. "It's been moving so fast, it's hard to really explain it," Buscher said by his locker inside the visitor's clubhouse at Jacobs Field on Friday. Fast seems to be putting it lightly. After being selected in the December Rule 5 Draft from the Giants, Buscher has watched his career flourish. He became the Twins' first real third-base prospect in recent years and watched himself rise from Double-A New Britain all the way to the big leagues in about half a season.
Buscher got the start at third base on Friday night as Nick Punto was shifted over to shortstop in place of Jason Bartlett. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said the move to sit Bartlett was due to numbers, as he is just 1-for-15 in his career vs. Byrd. Despite proclaiming that he had been on cloud nine since learning of his callup on Wednesday, Buscher didn't look too starry-eyed in his debut -- at least offensively. The 6-foot, 200-pound third baseman delivered a hit in his first Major League at-bat, lacing a single into right field. The plan is to play Buscher at third for the first two games in Cleveland before likely taking his left-handed bat out of the lineup on Sunday against Indians southpaw C.C. Sabathia. But what exactly Buscher's arrival means for the third base position is another question. Gardenhire didn't exactly reveal the plans for Punto's future at third base, but he definitely didn't hesitate to say that it will be a mix-and-match situation, at least to start. "We'll use everybody as best we can and move around the infielders," Gardenhire said. "We'll just do the best we can with the lineup and see how they do." The hope is that Buscher will provide a boost offensively. After hitting just .259 for the Giants' Double-A Connecticut club last season, Buscher hit a combined .309 in his two stops at Double-A New Britain and Triple-A Rochester this year with 13 home runs and 57 RBIs. The change is something that Buscher has attributed to an increased focus on limiting his strikeout numbers. He had 75 strikeouts in 130 games last season but just 41 in 98 games this year. "This year I've concentrated on seeing pitches, getting my foot down and putting the ball in play," Buscher said. "I'm happier with that. It's better than striking out." Offense might be the reason Buscher has arrived at this level so soon, but there have been some questions as to his quality of glove at third base. He didn't seem to help matters by recording his first error on a throw to first base in the third inning Friday. Buscher admitted that he hasn't hit his peak defensively, but that it's a work in progress. "It's getting better," Buscher said. "I didn't have a very good glove there in New Britain, but I'm working on it." Now or never: It's a well known fact that every season around the trade deadline, there are a few more anxious faces in the clubhouse than normal. That's certainly been the case for the Twins this year. Entering the series with the Indians sitting nine games back of the Tigers and 7 1/2 back of the Indians, the team could either transform itself into a contender with a strong showing or find itself dropping out of the race. That change in status could also turn the Twins from buyers to sellers. "I'm sure it's an important series for our general manager to make a decision, and I think we kind of understand that in the clubhouse," Gardenhire said. One thing that Gardenhire said he has tried to do during this anxious time is make himself even more visible inside the clubhouse. The main thing that Gardenhire tried to stress to his players is that this isn't a time to worry, as nothing can be done. "If it's going to happen, it's going to happen," the skipper said. "If we get more players, it's going to happen. Trades happen and players understand that. All we can do is just go play." Bad luck: Injuries have plagued the Twins all year, but no problem seems to occur more than finger issues. Torii Hunter was the latest to suffer a finger injury as he hurt his left middle index finger during an at-bat in the fifth inning of Friday's game. Hunter said the bat slipped off his fingers and rolled funny on the knuckle. After the game, the finger was clearly swollen and Hunter said it was very sore. "It was the worst pain ever," Hunter said of when the injury occurred. "It felt at first like I broke it." Hunter was able to play the rest of the game and said he should be fine to play on Saturday. But catcher Mike Redmond suffered a similar injury to his middle knuckle and missed close to a week of games.
A familiar face: The Twins didn't have to look far to see a team making a move to add some offense.The Indians acquired outfielder Kenny Lofton from the Rangers on Friday. This will mark Lofton's third stint in Cleveland, as the 40-year-old was a member of the Tribe from 1992-96 and again from 1998-2001. The trade is in large part due to the Indians being unhappy with the lack of production they've received in the corner infield spots. Lofton provides a solid bat and threat on the basepaths, but Gardenhire said the biggest boost might just be getting Lofton's presence back. "Adding experience, I'm sure, was one of those things they looked for, and Kenny knows this place as well as any," Gardenhire said. "The Tribe fans here are probably pretty familiar with Kenny Lofton, so it's probably a good fit." Lofton sure seemed to create a stir in at least the fan base, as he received a standing ovation from the crowd at Jacobs Field during his first at-bat. Down on the farm: Glenn Williams delivered an RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning to carry Triple-A Rochester to a 3-2 victory over Syracuse on Thursday. Williams' single came after Tommy Watkins had delivered a one-out double off former teammate Mike Venafro. ... Jesse Floyd gave up four earned runs over four innings in Double-A New Britain's 4-3 loss at New Hampshire. ... Garrett Olson and Wilson Ramos each belted two-run homers in Class A Beloit's 4-2 win over South Bend. Left-hander Tyler Robertson gave up just two runs over 6 2/3 innings to pick up his fifth win of the season. Coming up: The Twins will take on the Indians for Game 2 of the three-game series on Saturday night in a 6:05 p.m. CT start. Twins ace Johan Santana (11-8, 2.94) will try to rebound from his worst start of the season as he faces off against another pitcher who has had trouble recently, Indians right-hander Jake Westbrook (1-6, 6.20).
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.