It's Starting To Feel Like 2022 Again

Photo Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Pablo López always sits in the corner of the dugout between innings during his starts. He gave up a leadoff home run to Maikel Garcia after Royce Lewis hit a solo shot in the first inning, allowing the Kansas City Royals to tie the game. However, that was the only run he gave up in the Minnesota Twins’ 4-1 opening-day win in KC. Still, his spot in the corner of the visitor’s during gave him a clean look at Lewis’ quad injury in the second inning.

“I feel so bad,” López said. “I always sit in the corner, so I had a straight line, and I saw him limping, and the limping got worse as he was trying to score. Hopefully, it’s nothing too bad.”

It’s a sight nobody wanted to see. In spring training, the Twins have lost starter Anthony DeSclafani and relievers Jhoan Duran, Josh Staumont, Caleb Thielbar, and Justin Topa. Minnesota’s trainers removed Max Kepler from Thursday’s game, although the team believes it’s a minor injury and that he will play on Saturday. Lewis’ potential replacement, Brooks Lee, is on the 15-day injured list with an injury he suffered in Fort Myers. And Trevor Larnach is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury.

“We’re going to take some time, evaluate it, see how he’s doing,” Rocco Baldelli said after the game. “Obviously a very difficult situation, seeing him come off the field like that.”

It feels like 2022 again. The Twins led the AL Central for most of the season two years ago, only to relinquish it to the Cleveland Guardians in the final month. Injuries plagued Minnesota that year. Miguel Sanó (145 days), Bailey Ober (125), Lewis (120), Larnach (109), and Alex Kirilloff (80) spent significant time on the injured list. In response, the Twins bulked up on depth last season, a significant factor in their success.

However, the Twins cut payroll this year and have less depth. In response to losing Sonny Gray, they built one of the league’s best bullpens, hoping that the relievers would cover for the innings they lost when he signed with the St. Louis Cardinals. But the injuries to Duran and three other relievers reduce that advantage. Minnesota’s lineup is powerful with Byron Buxton leading off and Carlos Correa in the middle, but they must stay healthy with Lewis out.

Lewis injured his quad trying to score from first on Correa’s second-inning double. “The double felt great off the bat,” said Correa, “and then when I got to second, and I see Royce [is] hurt, you felt terrible. He’s a guy that you know he’s an MVP candidate and we just want him to stay healthy and be out there with us every single night if possible. You don’t want to see it on the first day.”

Lewis was upset he couldn’t score to make it 3-1. “I was just confused,” he said. “It honestly just felt like a little cramp, and it just tightened up as you’re running, and obviously, that’s where you see the hindrance of me trying to score.

“Honestly, the first thing that was in my mind was like, ‘Dang, that should be 3-1.’ Carlos hit it perfectly down in the corner there for me to score and so I actually envisioned that. I was like, ‘I think he’s going to hit one in the gap. I’m going to score.’ So I was just more bummed that I couldn’t score.”

Baldelli said that Lewis tried to stay in the game. “He was just kinda talking as though he wasn’t immediately coming out of the game. But with what we observed, and really, in addition to what he was saying, there was no real chance. He couldn’t run, so he’s not gonna be able to play.

“So, we’re just gonna see what these test results say and see where it leaves us at this point. Not the way you want to start the season out on the injury side of things.”

Lewis acknowledged that he tried to stay in the game. “Of course,” he said matter-of-factly. “It felt like a cramp, so I was like, ‘Maybe if we give it a couple minutes,’ but they said, ‘A couple minutes? You’ve got to go now.’ So I think it was a smart move to make the pull just because I probably wasn’t going to be able to run and score in that situation.”

He’s been through this before and is remaining positive. Lewis has suffered two ACL injuries and feels fortunate he didn’t re-injure his knee. “I’m just smiling because I was blessed to play,” he said. “This is my first Opening Day and so I just look at all the positives, like I said.

“I had a beautiful time watching the plane fly over. I don’t even know what that was. I’ve never seen that before. That was like a Superhero movie. And then the fireworks and seeing all my teammates and standing next to Carlos and Buck, who are two of my idols. It can’t get any better than that.”

The Twins are going to need that kind of resilience this year. Injuries are already piling up, and they’ve already tapped into their depth. Lewis is the kind of player who can change the momentum of a game. Duran is sure-handed in closing them out. Staumont, Thielbar, and Topa were supposed to help cover for Gray’s absence. But every season starts with high hopes and good intentions, and few play out as they should.

The best way to overcome it is to adopt Lewis’s attitude. Everyone suffers from lousy luck at some point, but he never lets it get him down.

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