Lewis continues recovery with sim game homer

September 27th, 2023

MINNEAPOLIS -- There’s no bigger question that looms over the final week of the season than this: Can the Twins get back from injury in time for the postseason?

It’s still far too early to know -- but consider this an encouraging start.

Lewis participated in a simulated game at Target Field early on Wednesday afternoon alongside Byron Buxton, Carlos Correa and others -- and, at this point, it should come as no surprise that Lewis crushed a homer in one of his four plate appearances, as all three players came out of the game doing well physically.

“He wouldn’t be up there hitting unless he was doing significantly better than he was doing the previous [Tuesday] when he tweaked his hammy,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “So, he’s already doing, feeling much better than he was. Can he play third base? Can he run the bases? I’m not sure. I don’t know the answer to those things. But he’s definitely doing better.”

Clearly, hitting isn’t going to be the issue for Lewis, who is on the mend from a Grade 1 left hamstring strain sustained while fouling off a pitch last Tuesday in Cincinnati. He said that the leg already felt good while swinging, and he has also been playing catch and taking ground balls from his knees.

“I feel really good at the plate,” Lewis said. “It was just good for me, honestly, to know that I can still see the ball. We faced some really good pitchers today. That's always a good sign, when you can see their sliders, changeups, curveballs, whatever they're throwing, and still feel confident up there.”

The big question, though, is whether Lewis will be able to run -- and the Twins haven’t yet reached milestones related to that. They are open to Lewis playing in a DH-only role for the AL Wild Card Series if his defensive work hasn’t yet progressed to the point of full participation, and it will be easier for them to get Lewis in game shape if he’s focused purely on hitting.

But even a DH-only role necessitates some baseline level of running -- and there’s no such thing as taking it easy in playoff games, with the team fighting for its life.

“Just to not re-aggravate and get hurt again, that's our main concern,” Lewis said. “If you come back too soon, then you're going to be out for the whole year. We don't want that at this point, and I definitely don't want that.”

But Lewis' importance to the Twins’ playoff roster can’t be overstated as Minnesota finally looks to end its inglorious 18-game playoff losing streak, the longest ever in North American men’s professional sports.

Look no further than how Lewis is third on the team in RBIs despite having played in only 58 games, or how he owns a career 1.232 OPS with runners in scoring position, or how he has a club record four grand slams this season -- all coming in a 20-day span. If healthy, he’s a true X-factor with both his performance and his presence.

If Lewis misses the Wild Card Series, the Twins could start Willi Castro at third base, which seems more likely than inserting Donovan Solano or Kyle Farmer into the everyday lineup against right-handed starting pitchers.

If he is limited to DH only, meanwhile, that would force Edouard Julien to second base and Jorge Polanco to third base, and it could also narrow Buxton’s path to a playoff roster, depending on his ability to play the field.

Baldelli said Wednesday that the Twins still have not ruled out Buxton playing the outfield, and that would likely be necessary for him to fit on the roster, considering that the Twins need the DH slot available to get all of their best bats into the lineup against right-handed pitchers.

Correa is expected to return for the playoffs, if not sooner. But in the cases of both Lewis and Buxton, the Twins will certainly wait as long as possible to make a call, with no meaningful news likely to come ahead of the Oct. 2 workout day.

“Why would we not consider [Buxton in the outfield]?” Baldelli said. “That’s all I can really say, though, because I really don’t know much more. And the training staff would say the same thing, and, I think, Byron would say the same thing. … We have some time.”