OAKLAND, CALIF. — Carlos Correa, a Platinum Glove winner and two-time All-Star, will be back in the Twins' lineup on Wednesday after nearly two weeks of being sidelined by a sore finger. So why does that seem like a minor detail of a much bigger story?
Because the Twins have decided that Royce Lewis, their most prized prospect, Correa's likely heir to the shortstop job, and oh yeah, perhaps the team's hottest hitter, should keep working at his primary position — in the minor leagues.
"Any time a guy is playing the way Royce is playing for us, and you're not going to be able to potentially put him in the lineup where you want, things get imperfect pretty quickly," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said after informing the rookie that, despite hitting a double and a home run on Tuesday, he won't be a member of the team on Wednesday. "It's not an easy decision. He's played great. … He's got some electricity in that bat for a wiry guy."
After hitting .308 with four doubles, two home runs and five RBIs, plus a handful of spectacular defensive plays in his first 11 major-league games, Lewis will likely help the St. Paul Saints break their eight-game losing streak. He'll do it at shortstop, for the most part, rather than third base, first base or the outfield, the manager said. Left unsaid is that the job is likely Lewis' next year, assuming Correa, as expected, opts out of his $105.3 million contract in November and becomes a free agent.
"We're going to move him around the field a little bit, to get him a little bit of exposure at some different spots. The last thing we would want to do is start sending him all around the field to play in places where he's literally never played a game," Baldelli said. "Bouncing him all around right now, probably not the best way to go and not the best way to prepare him to play at this level."
He looked plenty prepared, however, despite not playing in a professional game for two entire years, one due to the pandemic and one after knee surgery. And he even seemed prepared to hear the Twins' decision, Baldelli said.
"Of course it's a little disappointing, but he had a smile on his face," Baldelli said. "That young man is not going to stop working. He's not going to be any less motivated. I don't see him changing one bit. He'll be ready to play, first game back in St. Paul. And he'll be ready for us when we need him next time around."
Larnach expected to rehab
As he gathered in Elvis Andrus' one-hop line drive on May 6, Trevor Larnach remembers being shocked by Stephen Piscotty's decision to round third base and head for home.
"I looked up, and I was really surprised he was going," Larnach said. "I mean, I had the ball before he touched third."
Larnach easily threw Piscotty out at the plate — "If they want to keep running, I mean, be my guest," the left fielder said with a smile — but the play had a drawback, too.
"As I started jogging, I felt some tightness" in his groin, Larnach said. "Then I hit a single and a double, and when I took my leads off the bases, doing some shuffling, that's when I started to feel pain. And then in the ninth, I was backing up [Gilberto Celestino] on a ball in left-center, and I was in a full sprint. And all of a sudden, there was tightness, a cramp [and] sharp pain. The next day, I came back and it was worse."
The Twins responded by placing him on the injured list. The pain is all but gone now, he said. Larnach was brought along on this trip to Oakland and Kansas City, though it sounds like he might make a short detour to Wichita instead of K.C., to rehab with the Twins' Class AA club.
"We're going to keep evaluating him over the next couple of days, but we're getting close to sending him out [on a rehab assignment] and getting him some at-bats and seeing where he's at," Baldelli said. "With any kind of muscle injuries, we're going to end up having to be conservative and make sure we don't push guys."
Smeltzer's third option
A story in Tuesday's Star Tribune noted that Twins lefthander Devin Smeltzer is out of options, which means he cannot be sent to the minor leagues without clearing waivers.
Smeltzer corrected the record before Tuesday's game: Fortunately for the Twins, but perhaps not for him, it's not true.
"When I was sent to the [alternate training site in St. Paul] in 2020, I was only there a few days before Luis Arraez got hurt, and I got called up again," Smeltzer said. "I wasn't there enough to qualify" as having used an option.
That means that the Twins can use his third (and this time, final) option to return him to Class AAA, should their surplus of starting pitchers dictate it. Smeltzer, who owns a 3.86 ERA in five starts for the Saints this year, pitched five innings against Cleveland on Saturday, allowing one run on three hits.
- Righthander Bailey Ober rejoined the Twins on Tuesday, having recovered from his groin injury. He has been told he will start one of the games in Kansas City this weekend.