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Royce Lewis won’t need surgery, is optimistic about timeline for return

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Royce Lewis participated in a rigorous leg-based program this offseason designed to strengthen his tendons. It didn’t matter.

Saturday, the Minnesota Twins placed Lewis on the injured list with a “severe” right quadriceps strain that could sideline him for several months, according to team sources.

At a minimum, the Twins plan to rest the young star for a month before reassessing. Lewis suffered the injury running the bases in the third inning of Thursday’s season opener after homering in his first at-bat and singling in his second trip.

It’s the third major injury for Lewis since 2021 and means he’ll miss significant time for a fourth straight season after having his 2020 minor-league season wiped out by COVID-19. Despite the sobering news, Lewis remained unwavering in his positivity, noting the length and severity of the injury could be much worse.

“Maybe I’m too electric for my own good,” Lewis said, smiling. “I wouldn’t even call this long. The long ones I’ve dealt with were a year long. … It’s not the knee, so we know it’s not surgery. That’s important to me. Not going under the knife is very important. This is a win.”

That it’s not a season-ending injury can be seen as a positive to those with their glasses half-full. But it doesn’t change the fact the Twins are now without one of their building blocks only one game into the season.

Though Lewis has played only 77 games in his career, he is already a force at the plate. Including the postseason, Lewis has homered 26 times in 308 plate appearances, a Babe Ruth-type start.

The No. 1 pick of the 2017 MLB Draft has the type of talent that repeatedly lifted the Twins down the stretch in 2023 while Byron Buxton was on the injured list and Carlos Correa slumped through a season in which he played through plantar fasciitis. As good as they feel about their depth, the Twins know replacing Lewis won’t be easy.

“It’s really hard news,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “You feel terrible for Royce having to deal with this after everything else that he’s gone through. You feel bad for the team, as well. We got three innings out of him, and it was a pretty amazing contribution.”

When the Twins will next receive those contributions is to be determined. Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey didn’t offer an official timeline other than to say Lewis would initially rest for a month.

The team knew how severe Lewis’ strain was after he underwent an MRI on Friday. But the Twins took time to confer with club doctors as well as NFL doctors, who are more accustomed to seeing serious quadriceps injuries. As significant as the strain was, Falvey said surgery never was an option.

“He’s going to need some significant time down, from a recovery standpoint,” Falvey said. “He’s a unique healer. He seems to come back at times pretty quickly. He’s already feeling better than he felt (Friday), and that’s his nature. He’s very optimistic, and that’s the way we want to approach this. It’s really going to be the next few weeks to figure out how it’s recovering, how it’s returning. But it’s significant enough that he needs some time down in order to build back.”

What’s particularly frustrating for the Twins is the amount of work Lewis put into strengthening his legs in the offseason. The team devised a plan for Lewis, and he implemented it. As he went through spring training, Lewis said he felt “like a true athlete.”

“We talked about a lot of isometrics, which is tendon health,” he said. “I felt like we did a great job with running plyometrics, which is, like, jumping, single-leg hops, two-leg hops. … It’s kind of one of those things where there’s nothing I would have done different. It’s a play where every single baseball player would look to score. Especially a ball down the line, I don’t think I would have changed (anything) I would have done. Just another freak deal.”

The biggest benefactor of the incident is rookie Austin Martin, whom the Twins promoted and who made his major-league debut Saturday as a pinch runner. With Lewis down, the Twins will look to Willi Castro and Kyle Farmer to fill the void at third base, which opened playing time at second. Martin, who plays second and center field, brings the versatility Baldelli craves, along with good speed.

Had top prospect Brooks Lee been healthy, the Twins might have called him up. But Lee is expected to begin the season on the injured list at Triple A, as he’s dealing with a back strain and wasn’t an option, Falvey said.

Martin joined the team in Kansas City on Friday night. Ten of his family members attended Saturday’s game and saw him enter as a runner, only to later be removed for a pinch hitter.

“I haven’t really done too much reflection,” Martin said. “I’ve kind of just been in the moment and just trying to stay with that mindset, honestly. I think that’s kind of helping with the nerves and all that stuff.”

As for Lewis, he’s headed back to Minneapolis on Sunday. His plans for the next month are to rest and recover.

“We’re just going to let it heal,” Lewis said. “We’re still trying to figure out this stuff because this is a new injury for baseball players especially. … Just maintenance, pain tolerance, whatever that would be.”

Vázquez, Buxton deliver in clutch

Everyone wishes they could respond to adversity the way Christian Vázquez did Saturday afternoon.

In consecutive innings, after he grounded into a bases-loaded double play with his team trailing, the veteran catcher threw out Bobby Witt Jr. stealing a base and later singled in the go-ahead run. Vázquez’s late play and run-scoring doubles by Buxton helped the Twins make the most of another sterling pitching effort in a 5-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium.

Vázquez said it was particularly meaningful to single in Ryan Jeffers with one out in the eighth inning because it was his first start of the season after a difficult 2023 campaign, including not making any starts during the postseason.

“It was a big hit,” Vázquez said. “I know I can do it. It was a big hit for the team, and I’m happy to have made it. … I know the player I am. I have a lot of experience under the belt. I’m happy to be myself again.”

The Vázquez hit couldn’t have come at a more critical time. Buxton tied the score in the top of the eighth inning with a one-out RBI double over a drawn-in infield. With one out in the bottom half, Witt walked against Griffin Jax. Witt took off on the first pitch, and Vázquez popped up and fired a strike to Correa, who applied a slap tag to cut down Witt. As he laid on his back, Correa clapped.

“He’s explosive, and even when you know he may be going, sometimes there’s not a lot you can do about it,” Baldelli said. “Vasky popped up, got rid of that thing so quickly, threw it. Great tag. Huge moment.”

Vázquez delivered another huge moment shortly thereafter. Facing reliever Will Smith with two on, he got enough of a 1-2 slider to drive it to left and score Jeffers.

Alex Kirilloff made it a 3-1 game with a sacrifice fly before Buxton ripped a two-run, two-out double to left off Smith. On both doubles, Buxton turned on the afterburners.

“When he’s playing the game, running around the way he is right now, it doesn’t look like that with anybody else,” Baldelli said. “I’ve never seen another player play the game and visually look like him.”

Ryan sharp in debut

Joe Ryan threw everything harder in his regular-season debut than he did last season and looked good doing so. Ryan generated nine swings-and-misses in 81 pitches and kept Kansas City off-balance with a five-pitch mix, striking out five in 5 1/3 innings. With his sweeper, slider and splitter all at least 3 mph faster than last season’s average, Ryan allowed three hits and walked one while limiting the Royals to one run.

“He kept the velo up all game,” Vázquez said. “It was amazing. I think the cutter’s a great weapon this year for him — throwing it hard, that cutter. He looked very good.”

Ryan’s outing is a good sign for the Twins, who need the young pitchers in their rotation behind Pablo López to step up after the departures of Sonny Gray and Kenta Maeda. We’ll have more detailing Ryan’s work at Driveline next week and what he hopes to gain from it.

Elbow surgery ends DeSclafani’s season

The Twins knew it wasn’t a good sign when pitcher Anthony DeSclafani required a trip to see Dr. Keith Meister for a second opinion on his right elbow. During Friday’s visit, DeSclafani had season-ending flexor tendon surgery, which is expected to keep him out of action for the next 13 months.

Though they’ll continue to search for pitching depth, the Twins will rely on Triple-A starters Simeon Woods Richardson, Brent Headrick and David Festa for now.

“These guys are gonna have to find ways to help us in the way that Louie Varland did in the past and Bailey Ober did in the past,” Falvey said.

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

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