Royce Lewis makes it a grand night as Twins pummel Guardians

The Twins might have something to think about when Carlos Correa returns from the injured list.

Royce Lewis, the Twins’ 2017 first-round draft pick, hit his first major league home run on Friday, a grand slam to break the dam on a 12-8 victory over the Cleveland Guardians in front of 18,711 at Target Field.

It’s not so much that Lewis is ready to replace Correa, the Twins’ big-ticket offseason acquisition, at shortstop. It’s more that he’s been pretty darn good since being called up for his first major league taste on May 6.

“Could I see him here? Of course,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Could I see him going back for a while then coming back later? Of course.”

Gary Sanchez was 2 for 3 with a three-run home run, and Sonny Gray – making his return from a hamstring injury suffered April 16 at Boston, struck out a season-high eight in 4⅓ innings as the Twins’ snapped a three-game losing streak and extended their American League Central lead on second-place Chicago to three games.

But Lewis, the first overall pick in the 2017 amateur draft, was Friday’s star.

After getting his first big league extra-base hits on Friday — he doubled, homered and scored twice in the Twins’ nine-run fifth inning — Lewis has hit safely in six of his seven big-league games, hitting .320 with four RBIs and two runs scored while playing a solid shortstop.

Not bad considering he didn’t play any games in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic and missed all of 2021 after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during spring training.

“It felt great,” said of his big night. “I think it was pretty much everything I could have imagined and more, you know? This whole debut, playing with these guys has just been truly special. I couldn’t have asked for a better situation or a better scenario. Everything that’s been happening has been truly special beyond belief. Just going to keep doing it.”

Lewis went 2 for 4 with a double, homer, two runs scored and four RBIs. In his first at-bat, with one out in the second, Lewis was robbed by Cleveland third baseman Jose Ramirez, who snared a liner that left Lewis’ at 114 mph.

But with one on and none out in the fifth, he doubled to the well in left-center off Cleveland starter Aaron Civale (1-3), moving Ryan Jeffers to third. After Max Kepler’s RBI single, Lewis, Jorge Polanco and Kepler scored on Sanchez’s 425-foot home run to dead center off reliever Bryan Shaw to make it 8-2. With two out and the bases loaded later in the fifth, Lewis took a 1-0 pitch from reliever Shaw and shot it an estimated 395 feet into the left-center bleachers for an 11-2 Twins lead. The Twins sent 12 batters to the plate and scored nine runs in the inning.

Lewis became the first Twins player to hit a grand slam for his first career home run since Danny Valencia did it in Kansas City on July 26, 2010.

The Guardians, who had won five of their previous seven games, were playing without most of its major league coaching staff, including manager Terry Francona, because of a COVID-19 outbreak. They also were without first baseman Josh Naylor, who is leading the Guardians with a .347 batting average and ranks second to Jose Ramirez with five homers and 22 RBIs.

Byron Buxton and Polanco gave the Twins a 2-0 lead in the first with solo home runs. Buxton’s, a blast to the second deck in left-center estimated to have traveled 433 feet, was his 10th of the season and the seventh leadoff homer of his career.

Correa, on the 10-day injured list after being hit by a pitch on the middle finger of his right hand May 5 in Baltimore, was the first player to greet Lewis after his grand slam.”

“I think he was more excited than I was,” Lewis said.

One of the best defensive shortstops in baseball, Correa struggled at the plate early but had been trending back to his mean before going down, hitting .328 with three doubles, a homer and 10 RBIs in the 15 games before he was injured.

If he’s healthy, Correa is not going to be replaced at short by Lewis. But could the rookie play somewhere else?

“That’s more of a conversation for the future,” Baldelli said. “Does he have the ability? Yes. But we’re not planning that far ahead. We’re going day by day, week to week, and trying to get our team healthy.”

Although he gave up four earned runs on four hits in 2⅓ innings, Griffin Jax (3-0) cleaned up a two-on, one out jam to end the fifth inning and earned the victory.

Oscar Mercado was 2 for 4 with a two-run home run, and Ramirez was 2 for 5 with a pair of run-scoring singles and Andres Ramirez hit a two-run home run off Emilio Pagan in the ninth for Cleveland.

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