'Not normal': Lewis adds to legacy with 425-foot slam

Ryan shows off new pitch in spring debut

March 1st, 2024

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It’s only Spring Training, but folks, Royce Lewis is already back at it.

It would seem that at some point, the ridiculous flurry of grand slams would have to stop -- but not even an offseason away from the diamond has slowed it down, as Lewis’ first bases-loaded opportunity of the spring ended with the result that simultaneously seemed both the least probable and the most probable at this point: another grand slam.

Since it’s spring, this one won’t add to the quickly ballooning number of five grand slams within Lewis’ first 66 career games -- the fewest games to hit that mark in MLB history -- but add Lewis’ 425-foot no-doubter in the third inning of the Twins’ 5-3 victory over the Red Sox on Friday to his quickly growing legacy of improbable feats, in particular with the bases loaded.

“It's something special. That kid is special,” Byron Buxton said. “That's all I've got to say. Stuff he does is not normal.”

“I think these guys are just like, ‘What the heck, man, I don’t know what’s going on,’” Lewis said. “I said the same thing. I really don’t [know]. I just enjoy it. Take advantage of the opportunities when they come because they’ll go away soon. You just take advantage while you get them.”

It’s funny, because that wasn’t even an opportunity that Lewis would typically consider, he said, because he likes to take pitches on 3-0 counts as someone who doesn’t walk often. But he caught a glimpse of first-base coach Tommy Watkins smiling at him during Lewis’ first plate appearance, when he also worked a 3-0 count and took the next pitch right down the middle for a strike.

That smile was on his mind when Red Sox Minor Leaguer Jordan DiValerio happened to fall behind, 3-0, in that next plate appearance with the bases loaded.

“I was like, I guess maybe I’ll swing at this one,” Lewis said.

And when that man swings with the bases loaded, good things tend to happen -- just look at the 7-for-12 career line in such situations (featuring a cool 2.449 OPS) and the franchise-record four grand slams from last season.

“Well, you almost laugh to yourself a little bit that you’re in the situation again,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Even without the homer, you’re still sitting there like, ‘My god, it feels like we load the bases for this guy a lot,’ and he just keeps coming through, over and over again. It’s a good time. It's fun. I hope we’re talking about it again in April, May and June.”

Ryan debuts new sinker
When Joe Ryan first arrived in the organization in the 2021 trade that sent Nelson Cruz to Tampa Bay, a chunk of the discourse revolved around Ryan’s extreme reliance on the fastball and whether that might, one day, catch up to him.

That seems like a long time ago, because this spring, Ryan is ready to throw the kitchen sink at opposing lineups.

In the right-hander’s Spring Training debut, he threw five different pitches -- the four-seamer, the sweeper, the splitter, the “shorter slider,” as he calls it, and the new sinker -- and his hope is to continue evolving his arsenal to give himself more and more ways to adapt to how he’s feeling on any given day and the best possible approach against lineups.

“It kind of just gives me the options now to throw whatever I want and whatever a lineup might dictate,” Ryan said. “Just put a little indecision in the hitters' heads, and I think that always helps.”

Ryan primarily relied on his four-seamer, sweeper and splitter last season, showing the ability to thrive when needed with just those offerings -- he almost exclusively used the four-seamer and splitter in his complete-game shutout against the Red Sox on June 22.

But offseason work at Driveline, the baseball training facility in Arizona, saw the introduction of a sinker that Ryan says the Twins seem to like after he had been “kind of joking around with it” at points last year. He plans to use this spring to get comfortable with his new options and continue to refine.

“What I see is that he's not afraid to take chances,” Baldelli said. “He's going out there with pitches in these Spring Training games to figure out how his mix is going to work best for him.”