MINNEAPOLIS -- There’s no question about it anymore: The future is now for these Minnesota Twins. Friday night offered an example of what the coming years could look like for this team -- and it appears to be a rosy outlook indeed.
At shortstop stood Royce Lewis, this club’s No. 1 prospect, who endured two years away from the diamond to finally bask in the triumph of his first big league hit as part of his long-awaited debut. At first base stood Jose Miranda, ranked No. 3 in the organization, who crushed his first career homer. On the mound, No. 6 prospect Josh Winder dealt another six outstanding innings, setting a club strikeout record along the way.
“We grew up [together] as young guys coming up, and we’re just here to help these guys that are veterans who have been doing it for a long time,” Lewis said. “Hopefully the new wave comes on, and that’ll be us one day.”
Even with Carlos Correa (bruised finger), Miguel Sanó (meniscus surgery) and Luis Arraez (COVID-19) sidelined, the Twins had young difference-makers ready to step up everywhere, and they made their presence felt in all three phases of the game from start to finish on Friday.
It all started with Winder, who allowed three hits and an unearned run while striking out eight, setting a club record for most strikeouts in a pitcher’s first two career starts with 15. The 25-year-old right-hander benefited from a runner being thrown out at home plate in the second inning before he retired the next nine batters, with the only damage coming on a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning.
Winder has yet to allow an earned run in 12 innings as a starter.
“We’re a month into the season and we’ve had some really good pitching outings,” acting manager Jayce Tingler said. “The one Winder threw tonight may have been the best. And I mean that with all due respect to some of the good games that have been thrown.”
Though the Twins missed a bevy of offensive opportunities, they got big swings that carried over the wall, including a second-deck blast from Miranda in the second inning off Oakland starter Zach Logue that carried an estimated 404 feet into left field. The 23-year-old knew it, too; the ball had hardly left his bat when he pointed into the dugout to celebrate.
And after Buxton gave the Twins the lead in the fifth inning with his ninth blast of the season, tying him for the MLB lead, Lewis joined the fun in the eighth with his first big league knock, bringing the fans to their feet with a 92.5 mph single to right field.
"I just think that the crowd had a little bit of know-all of what's going on, and I really appreciated it, that's for sure,” Lewis said. “It made me really nervous. I didn't know if I should take off my helmet or not. It felt like someone's 3,000th hit.”
In such a tight game, some outstanding defense from all of those youngsters also made all the difference in the world.
When the A’s strung together a pair of singles in the second, Trevor Larnach launched a throw to the plate following Elvis Andrus’ single to throw out Stephen Piscotty, saving a run with his team-leading third outfield assist. Later, 23-year-old Gilberto Celestino dove for a sinking liner to hold Jed Lowrie to a sacrifice fly instead of an RBI knock.
And in the ninth, when Emilio Pagán pitched himself into a bases-loaded jam, Miranda charged a soft grounder hit by Seth Brown and recorded a tough force play at home plate, preserving the Twins’ lead and setting up Chad Pinder’s game-ending strikeout.
This is what the future looks like. Perhaps it’s here earlier than expected, and there will likely be some growing pains as they all adapt to the Majors. But those youngsters can already make a difference -- and they showed that on Friday.
“I think the Twins are in a really good spot, that we’re able to call up a first overall pick when our $35 million guy goes down,” Winder said. “To see that depth and see those guys really just take it all in stride is really, really nice.”