Luck of the Irish: Twins’ Brooks Lee enjoys big day in special cap

DUNEDIN, FLA. – Brooks Lee isn't normally a souvenir collector, but who could blame him Sunday? The Twins' best infield prospect is of Irish descent, and he had just hit his first home run and first triple as a Twin.

So after the Twins' 9-4 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays was final, Lee asked the equipment manager whether he could give the green cap the Twins wore for St. Patrick's Day to his family.

"Pretty good day," the 23-year-old said with a smile. "I felt really good."

It showed, right from the start.

Lee, the Twins' first-round pick in 2022, launched a 2-1 slider from Toronto starter Yariel Rodriguez into the bleachers above the ballpark's high right-field wall in the first inning, his first home run in 26 career Grapefruit League games.

"It's nice to finally get one out of the yard. I was thinking about that a couple of days ago — man, I still haven't left the yard. Because I know I can," Lee said. "I thought I'd better just let it play out. If I'm a singles and doubles hitter in the meantime, I'm OK with that."

Oh, he's more than that, too. Two innings later, Lee followed a walk by Edouard Julien by lining a 3-2 curveball into the right-field corner, then easily reaching third base.

"I'm not a fast guy, so I just run hard until they stop me," Lee said. "I busted my butt to get over to third when I saw [third-base coach] Tommy [Watkins] waving."

Alex Kirilloff made it back-to-back triples by hitting a hot grounder near the same spot, giving the Twins a temporary lead.

It was a fun day, and that green cap will bring good memories for a long time. But Lee has no illusions about what the immediate future holds in the next 10 days — an assignment to Class AAA St. Paul. That he will go after playing so many games and putting together a hot streak — he's 6-for-12 in his last four games, and his spring batting average is up to .343 — makes that plan more rewarding, Lee said, not less.

"Anyone, when you first start, you're going to be nervous. But you just see certain pitches over and over, and you kind of get used to it and you start to groove your swing for them," Lee said. "I felt really good today. Even when I don't, it's still expected of me to put the ball in play, make the defense make a play.

"Sometimes I get lucky," he said with a laugh, "being Irish."

Wallner, Larnach go hitless

It wasn't nearly as happy a day for outfield candidates Matt Wallner and Trevor Larnach, each of them hitless (albeit with one walk apiece) in four plate appearances. Or for Twins pitchers, who combined to give up three homers — two by Kevin Kiermaier and one by George Springer — as Toronto swept this spring's home-and-home with the Twins and handed Minnesota its eighth loss in the past nine games.

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"We just decided to get those guys a full game's worth of at-bats," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said of the lefthanded hitters. "Give them lots of work as we go along."

Larnach is hitting .240 for the spring (6-for-25) with one homer, while Wallner is still fighting his slow start — he's now 2-for-29 (.069) with a homer.

Paddack spared long drive

Chris Paddack pitched five innings against the Greenville Drive on Sunday, the Boston Red Sox's Class high-A affiliate, but it wasn't punishment or a demotion. It was a decision made with Paddack's car in mind.

Two of Paddack's first three starts of the spring took place in North Port, Fla., spring home of the Atlanta Braves, and the other was against the St. Louis Cardinals in Jupiter, Fla., on the Atlantic coast of the state.

As a veteran, Paddack prefers to drive himself to road games, so he has put more than 550 miles round trip on his car this spring. Sunday was his next scheduled start, but Dunedin is 136 miles from Fort Myers.

So the Twins took mercy and let him stay home and pitch a minor league game.

"He's been on the road a good amount," Baldelli said. "We didn't want to make him drive all the way up here again."

The righthander allowed seven hits over five innings, including a solo home run to Red Sox prospect Miguel Bleis. He struck out eight, including five of the last eight batters he faced, with a fastball that topped out at 95 mph.