Twins add Lewis, hope to keep winning after under-the-radar start

Though their fans might not know it by examining the AL Central standings or contemplating this year's erratic swings between long stretches of success and miserable weeks of failure, the 33-26 Twins are off to their third-best start of the past two decades.

If they were to keep up this pace and win 91 games, it would represent their second-best finish since 2010.

And they might be about to get a lot better.

Royce Lewis, who has taken part in three of the 522 innings the Twins have played in 2024, will be in uniform Tuesday in Yankee Stadium, his first big-league action since suffering a strained right quad while running the bases on Opening Day, some 9½ weeks ago.

Can their dynamic young third baseman make a difference? Well, at 2-for-2, he's batting 1.000 this season.

"We're a better team when Royce is out there and playing third base for us regularly," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "We can move everybody around and make it all work, but when you add him back into the lineup, we're a better club."

That's what his teammates believe, too. Though he's played only 71 big-league games, not even a half-season yet, in his career, Lewis already is arguably the Twins' best hitter, and one of the two or three best overall players.

"I'm very excited to be playing next to Royce again," said shortstop Carlos Correa, whose presence on the Twins' roster forced Lewis, a shortstop throughout his amateur and minor league career, to adapt to a new position. "He's a generational talent that we need on the field."

Lewis' relentless positivity, his popularity with his teammates, makes it easy to forget that he has been sidelined for the entire season.

"Yeah, he's been around us every day, working hard and taking part in everything we do to get ready," catcher Ryan Jeffers said. "Then the game starts, and you realize, 'Oh, we could really use his bat right here,' or 'Royce would be perfect for this situation.'"

Lewis went only 4-for-23 (.174) with a double, no homers, one walk and eight strikeouts during his six-game rehab stint with Class AAA St. Paul. His manager looks at those skimpy numbers … with amusement.

"That's more something that makes me laugh than anything else. It doesn't really matter that much," Baldelli said. Rehab assignments are "more about, obviously, him feeling good. And it's going pretty good."

The Twins will make another major adjustment, too, both to their roster and to their day-to-day lineup. Edouard Julien was optioned to the Saints on Monday to make room for Lewis; coincidentally, his last demotion also occurred immediately after the Twins' final game in Houston.

That assignment lasted only a week last year. Julien played seven games for St. Paul, collected eight hits in them, seven for extra bases, and returned to the Twins when Jorge Polanco injured a hamstring.

This time, the Twins would like Julien to resume his mastery of all fields at the plate. The second baseman homered twice against the White Sox on April 26, giving him seven for the season, but he hasn't homered in 34 games since that day, collecting only three doubles and batting .202.

In the meantime, Willi Castro, an infielder who has already filled in for Correa at shortstop and Lewis at third base, figures to become the Twins' regular second baseman against righthanded pitching, with Kyle Farmer also getting some at-bats.

Lewis will likely serve as designated hitter occasionally, and he'll get regular off days for at least the remainder of the month, as the Twins try to prevent reinjury during a busy time: They're scheduled to play 25 games in the remaining 27 days of June.

"We want Royce on the field. We want Royce hitting third and being out there every day," Baldelli said.

But the Twins have survived without him.

"Basically, we've been living it since Opening Day, a third of the season. … I feel like we haven't taken a significant hit [to their record] because we have guys who have stepped up into their roles," Baldelli said. "Is it a hit? Of course it's a hit. Is it a hit we can't overcome? Not even close."