Byron Buxton and Carlos Correa back Royce Lewis after ’emotional’ downgrade


Byron Buxton and Carlos Correa back Royce Lewis after 'emotional' downgrade

OAKLAND, Calif. — The twins made what they believed to be a solid baseball move late Tuesday night, bringing Royce Lewis back to the minors for more repeats. Their reasoning is that with Carlos Correa back in the lineup, Lewis would not see consistent enough playing time at shortstop after a 2 1/2 year hiatus to justify remaining in the majors.

However, well-thought-out decisions are not always received in the clubhouse as such. And the calmest post-season atmosphere, which was the case on Tuesday, would suggest this one hasn’t landed.

Not only did the players endure a heavy loss in three runs on the field, but they were also shocked to discover Lewis was returning to Triple-A St. Paul despite a stellar start to his major league career. That Lewis was an able fill-in during his 11-game stint, hitting .308/.325/.564 in 40 plate appearances while playing a smooth defensive shortstop, didn’t go unnoticed by teammates.

“Royce played great,” said Correa on Wednesday morning. “He’s one of the best players on the field since he’s up. So yeah, it was kind of a surprise. He was just so electric, so good during that stretch with us. …

“You saw the clubhouse, saw the atmosphere. That will tell you what you need to know.”

On Wednesday morning, Twins players publicly and privately expressed their disappointment at the decision to downgrade Lewis. This is not mutiny – it is far from it. Players have grown accustomed to the concept that baseball is a business and tough decisions are a daily occurrence.

But it doesn’t mean they have to like it either – although Lewis could return to the team soon.

Midfielder Byron Buxton didn’t seem too surprised by the decision. But Buxton did mention the twins will miss Lewis’ presence at the clubhouse.

“He’s a great player,” said Buxton. “Every day he got the energy out of a player that you wish for. Apparently the vibes weren’t good in here. But we all understand what’s going on and what the bigger picture is. It’s more of a business move thing.”

After sitting with Lewis and sharing words of encouragement on Tuesday, Correa met with Twins manager Rocco Baldelli. He wanted to hear the team’s rationale.

Baldelli and the twins are adamant that Lewis simply needs to play every day. After sitting out like baseball’s other minor leagues in 2020, Lewis missed the entire 2021 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He has accumulated all 147 plate appearances since being named the Arizona Fall League’s Most Valuable Player.

Now more than ever, given his early performances in Triple A and the Majors, the Twins recognize that Lewis is their shortstop of the future. They want him ready to take over in 2023 when Correa steps out of his three-year, $105.3 million deal. But Baldelli is also aware that his players could be emotional about the decision.

“Any time a guy plays as well as Royce does for us, people want to keep him,” Baldelli said. “It’s pretty easy. I don’t think it’s anything crazy to hear. For Royce and for us he has to keep playing. He has to play every day. He still has to play shortstop. He has to get out of there and just keep going. He has made great strides in a very short time. He’s a very exciting young player who’s already proving he can do it at this level. So we just have to keep it going.”

On Wednesday, Baldelli downplayed how much playing time Lewis would see in other positions and suggested the Twins want him to pick up as many innings as possible at the shortstop to improve his footwork.

They’re also aware of how aggressive Lewis was on the plate. He only walked once in 40 big league record appearances. Still, Lewis didn’t extend his zone and only struck four times.

With Correa back, the twins are adamant that finding playtime for Lewis at shortstop would be difficult. They could find game time against collapsing rookie Jose Miranda, or by giving days off to Lewis Correa, second baseman Jorge Polanco, third baseman Gio Urshela or the team’s outfielders. He could also occasionally start at designated hitters.

But a team that loves versatility say they’re not interested in it with Lewis — at least for now. The organization will occasionally move Lewis around Triple A, but the twins would prefer him to do so in a lower-pressure environment.

“He didn’t really do it in multiple positions,” said Derek Falvey, president of Twins baseball operations. “We are thrilled with what he has already shown. For a young lad who hasn’t played baseball in a while, he’s done exceptionally well. This is a big step in the right direction. We still want him to be a shortstop. We want this ability to continue to evolve. But we also recognize: Let’s put him in Triple A for a period of time to make him known in some other places, move him in some places so that he’s ready to contribute in several places for us this year, maybe shortly in the medium term.”

Another well-founded argument. The twins are right to want to develop their top prospect and fully prepare him for his next tour in the majors. But the decision also left some players wondering if they are as good a team as they would have been if Correa was back in the line-up and Lewis was still in the mix.

When Lewis was named AFL MVP in 2019, he was playing 12 games at third base and making five appearances at midfield — never shortstop.

Teammates believe Lewis is a special talent who could thrive in the winning environment they have created in the clubhouse. Despite being much more experienced at the time, Correa noted his move from shortstop to third base to force his way into Puerto Rico’s lineup at 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 deal with the demotion.

“He took it straight away,” Correa said. “He knows he belongs here and will come back here someday.

“I had talks with Rocco (on Tuesday) evening. We talked about his plan and everything. What they think makes sense. They are the ones leading the team and they know what they have to do.

“It’s emotional. He’s part of our family. He played great when he was here. Teammates showed support and that we stand behind him. It’s always hard to see a great player like him getting demoted. But we have to focus on winning games now.”

Twins defeat Oakland

Sonny Gray was willing to go deep into the game if needed. His offense made it a moot point.

The veteran right-hander started the season longest by going six innings on Wednesday afternoon. The Twins’ offense rewarded him with a 14-run breakout.

Gary Sánchez doubled, played and drove in three runs, and Luis Arraez had three hits and scored four runs as the Twins beat the Oakland A’s 14-4 at the Oakland Coliseum. After a slow start, Gray picked it up and was sharp in 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 result was closer because I was feeling really good. I was ready to stay out there, which is a good sign. … Feeling like you feel like you can accomplish more just because it didn’t happen is okay. But to just feel, “I’m fine, I’m locked up and I’m fine to get out of there,” that’s a good thing. It probably didn’t make sense with the score today, but I was good with it.”

Sánchez gave Gray a nice cushion early on when he used a two-out, a broken racquet and bases down the left to give the Twins a 2-0 lead. Gio Urshela’s two-out single gave the Twins a three-run cushion, and they’ve never looked back.

Despite fighting through traffic in the first two innings, Gray pulled back the last 10 batters he faced. He threw strikes on 55 of 84 pitches and was willing to pitch longer if needed. The twins’ offense ensured that was not necessary.

Sánchez doubled on a run in the third inning while Arraez doubled on a run in the fourth inning and Correa followed with an RBI single. Playing in his first game since suffering a bruised middle finger on May 6, Correa went 2-on-4 with two runs and a walk.

In his last six games, Sanchez is 8-for-23 with four doubles, three homers and eight RBIs.

“He’s had some good at-bats that we’ve talked about where things might not have broken his way, or he’d hit a few balls a mile in the air onto the track,” Baldelli said of Sánchez. “He was in many places. He had a lot of good swings. You’re not owed anything in this game, but it feels good to see a guy who’s been swinging the bat well and really probably isn’t getting all the production he’s put in with a big hit like this at a big point has early in the game.”

Chris Paddock has Tommy John surgery

The Twins’ starting pitcher Chris Paddack had season-ending elbow surgery Wednesday morning in Dallas, Baldelli announced. The twins stated that the operation was successful. More information on Paddack’s rehab program will be made available at a later date.

Paddack, who was acquired April 7 along with assist Emilio Pagán from the San Diego Padres in exchange for assist Taylor Rogers, was 1-2 with a 4.03 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 22 1/3 innings. He previously underwent Tommy John surgery in 2016.

“Chris has struggled through some things in his career and in his health, but he needs to make himself strong and right,” Baldelli said. “We need a good version of him for the future. We need the best possible version of him, and the best possible version of Chris Paddack is to heal himself and undergo this procedure and rehabilitate himself and come back to full strength. He’s an ultra-talented young man with a great work ethic and I think he has an incredibly bright future with us. But the only way he can get there is for him to take care of the business now and get this done.”

the athleteKen Rosenthal contributed to this report.

(Photo: Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)

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