Royce Lewis’ rookie season is over, but that’s hard to tell by looking at him.
The compression sleeve on his right knee was the only hint in the Twins’ clubhouse Friday that the top prospect wasn’t fully healthy, because his face was all smiles even as he detailed having to surgically repair his right knee for the second time in as many years.
“Finally playing again, having so much fun doing it and didn’t care where I played, where I was hitting, not hitting, on the bench. As long as I was healthy, having a chance to play,” Lewis said. “And now it’s all over again. Part two.”
The shortstop first tore his anterior cruciate ligament early in 2021 and had surgery to repair it which took him out for the whole season, after he hadn’t played at all in 2020 either when the pandemic canceled minor league ball. He returned to the field this season, making his MLB debut when shortstop Carlos Correa was out with an injury.
The Twins briefly sent the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft back to Class AAA St. Paul to gain experience at other positions and had just recalled him to play center field May 29. But as he was making a catch early in that game, he slammed into the wall, which is what reinjured his knee, ending his season with 12 major league games and a .300 batting average.
The 23-year-old likened the impact to that of a car crash. Lewis said after talking with primarily center fielders like Byron Buxton, he realized he mistimed his jump for the catch, which is understandable given it was his first big-league game there.
“All I remember is I knew I was about to make a really cool play, because you can just tell when you’re about to make a catch or not,” Lewis said. “… I told all my buddies and even my teammates, ‘Center field is pretty easy.’ … [Now] I’m afraid of the wall.”
Both Lewis and manager Rocco Baldelli said they have no regrets about moving him around the field.
“At that given point, we’re trying to win, and he’s a really good young player, and he can play center field. He has the ability — the athletic ability, the baseball-playing ability — he has all of the things needed to play that spot,” Baldelli said. “… That particular play probably just a very rare, unfortunate freak accident at that point.”
This knee surgery will be slightly different than Lewis’ first one, including bracing the knee to make it more stable, but his recovery will still take about 12 months. Lewis and the Twins have not yet decided when and where the surgery will take place or with which doctor. Lewis will likely stay with around the Twins in the immediate aftermath of his surgery, which Baldelli said will be good for his mental health, but might end up doing most of his rehab work in Fort Myers, Fla.
Lewis said initial imaging made it seem like just a bone bruise, but second opinions a couple weeks later revealed the full damage. There was an option to try to play through the injury, but Lewis said he didn’t want to take up a roster spot when he wasn’t 100%, and he also wanted to make the smart decision for his long-term future in the league, as fully tearing it could require a total knee reconstruction.
Lewis is confident about coming back from the injury, since he’s already done it once. Baldelli said his comeback from the first tear was “remarkable.” And now that Lewis has accomplished one ambition of playing in the big leagues, he has even more motivation to keep setting new goals.
“It helps that I’m literally living my best life and dream,” Lewis said. “… It’s just a pause, just another setback, that honestly will push me forward and propel me to greater heights. And maybe reach out to other people and other hearts that are struggling with some things.
“It’s just life. People get knocked down all the time. People come back. Just makes the resurrection that much cooler.”
Starters lining up
The starting rotation is in a bit in shambles, with Baldelli still unsure of who will pitch Saturday’s game against Tampa Bay, though he has said there’s potential for it to be a bullpen outing. But reinforcements should arrive among the starters in time for the upcoming road trip to Seattle.
Sonny Gray is eligible to come off the Injured List on Tuesday after recovering from his right pectoral strain. He threw 25-30 pitches to live hitters Friday, which Baldelli said went “smoothly,” and is lined up to start next week for the Twins. Joe Ryan also had a good rehab outing now that he has recovered from COVID-19, pitching three innings with just one hit and four strikeouts with St. Paul on Thursday. Baldelli said Ryan will likely start for the Twins on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Josh Winder made a rehab start for two innings for the Saints on Friday as he works back from a right shoulder impingement. Baldelli said he might need another rehab outing to fully stretch out to a starter’s workload. Baily Ober is still shut down with a strained right grown and has not started throwing again yet.
Target Field had to evacuate Friday morning after one of the bomb-sniffing dogs picked up something around the loading dock. After sweeping the building, security found no threat. And Baldelli said no one from the team had come to the stadium yet, so it didn’t affect the Twins’ preparation for that night’s game.