Royce Lewis expected to rejoin Twins for Yankees series: ‘We need (him) on the field’

NEW YORK — He’s back, and just in time for the bright lights of Broadway.

Nine and a half weeks after suffering a catastrophic injury on Opening Day, Royce Lewis is expected to rejoin the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night as they open a three-game series at the New York Yankees. Lewis homered, singled and then injured himself running the bases in the third inning of the March 28 contest, missing the team’s next 58 games with a severe right quad strain.

To make space for Lewis, the Twins made a difficult choice to demote second baseman Edouard Julien to Triple-A St. Paul. Tough as the decision may be, the Twins know what they’ll receive in Lewis, whose stardom has burned bright during his short time in the big leagues.

“I’m very excited to be playing next to Royce again,” Twins shortstop Carlos Correa said last week. “He’s a generational talent that we need on the field.”

Though he’s played fewer than 100 games combined between the regular season and playoffs, Lewis has lived up to the hype.

Drafted with the first overall pick in 2017, Lewis has hit 18 home runs and batted .313/.369/.564 with 58 RBIs in 282 big-league plate appearances. He also slugged another four home runs in six playoff games, including hitting two in his postseason debut last October.

But a series of injuries has limited Lewis’ brilliance.

After being diagnosed in spring 2021, Lewis missed the entire season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Shortly after he returned in 2022, Lewis suffered a reoccurrence of the injury when he crashed into the center-field fence tracking down a fly ball and missed the remainder of the season.

Lewis was troubled by several injuries in 2023, too. After returning to the field on May 29, 2023, Lewis missed another six weeks with an oblique strain and later went on the injured list with a hamstring strain.

Given his injury history, the Twins are requesting Lewis no longer run at full throttle all the time in the name of self-preservation.

With an aim toward staying on the field, Correa subscribes to the theory being applied to Lewis. Correa has encouraged teammates to slow down instead of running 100 percent on routine groundballs. Center fielder Byron Buxton appears to be listening, reducing his aggressiveness on routine plays in an attempt to stay healthy.

After asking him to selectively slow down, the Twins weren’t pleased when Lewis stole a base in his first rehab game for St. Paul on May 25.

But the Twins aren’t the only ones making the recommendation. When the Texas Rangers were in town last month, former teammate Mitch Garver offered a similar note to Lewis when they spoke during batting practice.

“I said, ‘Dude, Royce, I loved watching you in the playoffs last year,’” Garver said. “‘That was so much fun. You were made for the playoffs. You did it. You’re worth more on the field than you are off, so run it like 85 percent.’”

Lewis acknowledged the concept in early May, suggesting an adjustment might be necessary for him to stay on the field.

“The challenging part is staying healthy,” Lewis said. “There’s a lot of freak athletes in this game. Unfortunately, that freak athleticism, that power, that explosiveness, is kind of hard to control at times. Sometimes, I’ve just got to play like … just a little bit slower.”

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Royce Lewis had to watch his teammates for the first two months of the season. His wait to return is over. (Matt Krohn / USA Today)

The Twins played six games over .500 in Lewis’ absence, including winning 26 of their past 39 games after a slow start. Adding Lewis to the lineup brings an extra gear to an offense that made do without one of its best hitters. The Twins are 12th of 30 teams in baseball in runs per game and 15th in OPS.

Lewis played six games during his rehab assignment at St. Paul, going 4-for-23 with eight strikeouts. He snapped an 0-for-16 stretch on Sunday, walking and singling in his final two plate appearances.

“We want to time it up right,” manager Rocco Baldelli said of Lewis earlier in the week. “Make sure we put him in the right spot at the right time.”

(Top photo of Royce Lewis on Opening Day: Brace Hemmelgarn / Minnesota Twins / Getty Images)

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