OAKLAND, Calif. — The Twins made what they determined to be a sound baseball move late Tuesday night, returning Royce Lewis to the minors for more repetitions. Their reasoning is that with Carlos Correa back in the lineup, Lewis wouldn’t see consistent enough playing time at shortstop after 2 1/2 years off to warrant staying in the majors.
But well-thought-out decisions aren’t always received as such in the clubhouse. And the quietest postgame atmosphere of the season, which was the case Tuesday, would suggest this one didn’t land.
Not only did players have to absorb a tough, three-run loss on the field, but they also were shocked to Lewis was headed back to discover Triple-A St. Paul despite an outstanding start to his major-league career. That Lewis was a capable fill-in during his 11-game stint, batting .308/.325/.564 in 40 plate appearances while playing a smooth defensive shortstop, wasn’t lost on teammates.
“Royce has been playing great,” Correa said Wednesday morning. “He’s been one of the best players on the field since he’s been up. So yeah, it was sort of a surprise. He’s just been so electric, so good during this stretch with us. …
“You guys saw the clubhouse, saw the vibe. That will tell you what you need to know.”
Wednesday morning, Twins players publicly and privately expressed disappointment with the decision to demote Lewis. This isn’t a mutiny — it’s far from it. Players have grown accustomed to the concept that baseball is a business and tough decisions are commonplace.
But it doesn’t mean they have to like it, either — even if Lewis could return to the team soon.
Center field Byron Buxton didn’t seem as surprised by the decision. But Buxton mentioned the Twins will miss Lewis’ presence in the clubhouse.
“He’s a great player,” Buxton said. “He brought the energy that you want out of a player each and every day. Obviously, it wasn’t a good mood in here. But we all understand what’s going on and what’s the bigger picture. It’s more of that business-move thing.”
After sitting with Lewis and offering words of encouragement Tuesday, Correa met with Twins manager Rocco Baldelli. He wanted to hear the team’s rationale.
Baldelli and the Twins are firm in their belief that Lewis simply needs to play every day. After sitting out 2020 like the rest of baseball’s minor leaguers, Lewis missed all of the 2021 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He has accrued all of 147 plate appearances since being named the most valuable player at the Arizona Fall League.
— Bally Sports North (@BallySportsNOR) May 8, 2022
Given his early performance at Triple A and in the majors, the Twins realize now more than ever that Lewis is their shortstop of the future. They want him ready to take over in 2023 if Correa opts out of his three-year, $105.3 million deal. But Baldelli is also aware his players might be emotional about the decision.
“Any time a guy is playing really well like Royce has been for us, people want to keep him around,” Baldelli said. “It’s pretty straightforward. I don’t think it’s anything crazy to hear. For Royce and for us, he needs to keep playing. He needs to play every day. He needs to continue to play shortstop. He needs to get himself out there and just continue to progress. He’s made great strides in a really short period of time. He’s a very exciting young player, and he’s already proving he can do it at this level. So we just need to keep him going.”
Wednesday, Baldelli downplayed how much playing time Lewis would see at other positions, suggesting the Twins want him to accrue as many innings as possible at shortstop to clean up his footwork.
They’re also aware of how aggressive Lewis has been at the plate. He’s walked only once in 40 big-league plate appearances. Even so, Lewis hasn’t expanded his zone and has struck out only four times.
With Correa back, the Twins are adamant it would be difficult to find playing time for Lewis at shortstop. They could find playing time over slumping rookie Jose Miranda or by having Lewis provide Correa, second baseman Jorge Polancothird baseman Gio Urshela or the team’s outfielders with days off. He could occasionally start at designated hitter, too.
But a team that loves versatility says that’s not something it’s interested in doing with Lewis — at least for now. The organization will occasionally move Lewis around at Triple A, but the Twins would prefer he does so in a lower-pressure environment.
“He hasn’t really done it at multiple positions,” Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. “We’re excited by what he has already shown. He’s handled himself exceptionally well for a young kid who hasn’t played baseball for a while. That’s a huge step in the right direction. We still want him to be a shortstop. We still want that skill to continue to be developed. But we also recognize: Let’s put him in Triple A for a period of time to get him some exposure to some other spots, move him around some, so he can be ready to contribute in multiple places this year for us, maybe in the short to the medium term.”
“He is going back to St. Paul and he will be ready when the next opportunity comes up.” #MNTwins manager Rocco Baldelli gives his thoughts on Royce Lewis and his potential return. pic.twitter.com/kKj0qdo8eR
— Bally Sports North (@BallySportsNOR) May 18, 2022
Again, it’s a well-reasoned argument. The Twins are right to want to develop their top prospect and have him fully prepared for his next tour in the majors. But the decision also left some players to wonder whether they’re as good of a team as they would have been with Correa back in the lineup and Lewis still in the mix.
When Lewis was named the AFL MVP in 2019, he played 12 games at third base and appeared five times in center field — never at shortstop.
Teammates believe Lewis is a special talent who could succeed in the winning environment they’ve created within the clubhouse. Although he was much more experienced at the time, Correa noted his switch to third base from shortstop to force his way into Puerto Rico’s lineup in the 2017 World Baseball Classic and how he handled it well.
Correa has no doubt Lewis could do the same. But he also thought Lewis was in the right place mentally to handle the demotion.
“He took it the right away,” Correa said. “He knows that he belongs here and that he’ll be back here at some point.
“I had conversations with Rocco (on Tuesday) night. We talked about his plan and everything. What they’re thinking makes sense. They’re the ones that run the team, and they know what moves they have to make.
“It’s emotional. He’s part of our family. He played great when he was here. Teammates showed support and that we have his back. It’s always tough to see a great player like him getting demoted. But we have to focus now on winning games.”
Twins route Oakland
Sonny Gray was ready to pitch deep into the game if needed. His offense made sure it was a moot point.
The veteran right-hander made his longest start of the season by going six innings Wednesday afternoon. The Twins offense rewarded him with a 14-run outburst.
Gary Sanchez doubled, singled and drove in three runs, and Luis Arraez had three hits and scored four runs as the Twins trounced the Oakland A’s 14-4 at the Oakland Coliseum. After a slow start, Gray picked it up and was sharp into the sixth inning, limiting the A’s to two runs and five hits while striking out five and walking none.
“I want to (get deep into games),” Gray said. “I was ready to fight to stay in that game if the score was closer because I felt really good. I was ready to stay out there, which is a good sign. … To feel like you feel you can go more, just because it didn’t happen, that’s OK. But just to feel like ‘I’m good, I’m going to stay locked in and I’m good to go back out there,’ that’s a good thing. With the score, it probably didn’t make sense today, but I was good with it.”
— Bally Sports North (@BallySportsNOR) May 18, 2022
Sánchez helped provide Gray with a nice cushion early when he dumped a two-out, bases-loaded, broken-bat single to left to put the Twins up 2-0. Gio Urshela’s two-out single gave the Twins a three-run cushion, and they never looked back.
Though Gray fought through traffic in the first two innings, he retired the final 10 batters he faced. He threw strikes on 55 of 84 pitches and was prepared to pitch longer if necessary. The Twins offense ensured that wouldn’t be necessary.
Sánchez doubled in a run in the third inning, while Arraez doubled in a run in the fourth and Correa followed with an RBI single. Playing in his first game since sustaining a bruised middle finger on May 6, Correa went 2-for-4 with two runs and a walk.
Over his past six games, Sánchez is 8-for-23 with four doubles, three homers and eight RBIs.
“He’s had some good at-bats, as we’ve been talking about, where things haven’t maybe broke his way, or he’s hit some balls to the track a mile in the air,” Baldelli said of Sánchez. “He’s been on a lot of pitches. He’s had a lot of good swings. You’re owed nothing in this game, but it does feel good to see a guy who’s been swinging the bat good and really probably hasn’t gotten all of the production that he’s put into it with a big hit like that in a big spot early in the game.”
Chris Paddack has Tommy John surgery
Twins starting pitcher Chris Paddack had season-ending elbow surgery in Dallas on Wednesday morning, Baldelli announced. The Twins indicated the surgery was successful. More information on Paddack’s rehab program will be provided at a later date.
Paddack, who was acquired along with reliever Emilio Pagan from the San Diego Padres in exchange for reliever Taylor Rogers on April 7, was 1-2 with a 4.03 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 22 1/3 innings pitched. He previously had Tommy John surgery in 2016.
“Chris has battled through some things in his career and his health, but he has to get himself strong and right,” Baldelli said. “We need a good version of him going forward. We need the best possible version of him, and the best possible version of Chris Paddack is to get himself healthy and to have this procedure and rehab himself and get back to full strength. He’s an ultra-talented young guy with a great work ethic, and I think he has an incredibly bright future with us. But the only way to get there is for him to take care of business right now and get this done.”
— The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal contributed to this report.
(Photo: Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)