Royce Lewis Is Learning How To Balance Hustle and Health

Photo Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Royce Lewis injured his calf rounding second base trying to score on Carlos Correa’s single on opening day. Any player will fully exert himself in that situation. The Minnesota Twins and Lewis’ agent, Scott Boras, had asked him to focus more on pliability instead of power in the offseason, and Lewis had complied. He didn’t have an injury history before reaching the majors and was doing everything he could to stay on the field after two ACL surgeries.

Still, Lewis suffered an injury in the third inning of his first opening day, two innings after he had homered on a 0-2 count off hard-throwing lefty Cole Ragans. “I’ve never had any injuries prior to me being a professional,” said Lewis. “I don’t know if it’s the weather change or just me getting older, but maybe I’m too electric for my own good. Maybe I just need to slow myself down.”

Minnesota had three innings of Lewis, Correa, and Byron Buxton playing together. Buxton was back in center field, hitting leadoff; Lewis was at third, hitting third. Correa was in the four-hole. Lewis picked up where he left off last season, hitting a bomb in his first at-bat and singling in his second. Derek Falvey says the Twins will shut Lewis down for a month and then evaluate how long it will take him to return. Lewis will return to the field with a 3.500 OPS.

“Last season [he went] through the hamstring strain and really went into the offseason with a focus on mobility, flexibility. We all saw it. Physically, he looked different this spring than maybe he even did last year and got himself in a great spot,” said Falvey. “He’s frustrated because he felt he did everything he could to get his muscles in a good place. His legs are in a great spot. He just, you know, as he was running, he kind of pushed off, got through that second base bag, maybe hit the bag a little awkwardly, too.”

Buxton has learned to choose when to go all out and when he should preserve his body. He enters the season fully healthy and is happy to be in center again after spending last season as Minnesota’s designated hitter. Buxton has a lengthy injury history, but nearly all of his injuries have been unrelated. He’s been unlucky. Buxton will still try to rob opposing hitters of home runs and use his speed on the basepaths, but every player knows there’s only so much they can do to prevent injuries.

Lewis feels he did everything he could to prepare for the season. “We talked about a lot of isometrics, which is tendon health,” he said. “We did that with the team’s help. I felt like we did a great job with running plyometrics, which is, like, jumping, single-leg hops, two-leg hops. Felt like a true athlete this year. It was a lot of fun. So, yeah. It’s kind of one of those things where there’s nothing I would have done differently. It’s a play where every single baseball player would look to score. Especially a ball down the line, I don’t think I would have changed everything I would have done. Just another freak deal.”

Correa has learned when to go full bore and when to preserve himself in a 162-game season. He typically plays better in the final month of the season and the playoffs because he can take the governor off. Correa will swing harder and move quicker defensively and on the basepaths, knowing the games matter more and the season is coming to a close. But he knows he must play as often as possible for the Twins to win. But despite his efforts to post as frequently as possible, he suffered from plantar fasciitis, a soft-tissue injury that’s difficult for players to prevent.

“I’ve just come to learn it’s part of the game,” said Lewis. “It’s out of your hands. You can’t do anything about it. You talk to anybody, right? You work as hard as you can for something to be taken away from you. It’s not even in your control. I feel like I ran like I have all spring. I ran first to third plenty of times all spring. … These things have happened before. It’s nothing out of the usual. It was just a normal play. Like I said, a freak deal.”

Falvey believes there’s not much more Lewis could have done on that play. Every player will run as fast as possible to round third base to score. “You’ll replay everything in your head; he replays everything in his head,” said Falvey. “He thinks…‘Man, I saw that as a run, and I wanted to go get it.’ Ball in the corner, and that opportunity, you’re never going to turn that off in a guy. They go full speed every time. But there’s really nothing [they can do] from a preparation standpoint.”

Lewis is a meaningful loss for the Twins, but Rocco Baldelli feels he’ll handle the process as well as any player could. “Luckily, one thing he does really well is he moves past the really rough aspects of it, and he looks to what he needs to do next,” said Baldelli. “He looks towards what his job is next and his job is to stay positive and to get himself ready and to get treatment and take care of his body. So he handles that stuff well. He’s handled his previous issues as well as anyone really can. He doesn’t let himself go to a difficult mental spot for long periods of time.”

After undergoing two ACL surgeries, Lewis is grateful that his knee is fine and his quad won’t need surgery. “I wouldn’t even call this long,” he said. “The long ones I’ve dealt with were a year long. Like I said, it’s not the knee, so we know it’s not surgery. That’s important to me. Not going under the knife is very important. This is a win.”

The Twins are a dynamic team when Correa, Buxton, and Lewis are in the lineup. Correa is an elite all-around player, a capable shortstop who can hit. Buxton hits for power and gets to balls in the outfield that few other players can reach. Lewis is a clutch hitter who can change the momentum of a game with one swing of the bat. But they must be on the field together for Minnesota to contend in the American League. Therefore, they must prepare correctly for a summer full of baseball and choose their spots to go all-out on the diamond.

Lewis is learning how to best help his team. There are times when hustle is necessary and when he must work to preserve his body. Lewis always wants to go all out, and he always wants to play. But he must learn to balance the two to make the biggest impact moving forward.

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