CHICAGO — Wednesday, Edouard Julien, Royce Lewis and Matt Wallner were the center of attention, wearing outlandish costumes and serving teammates food and beverages on their rookie charter flight. Thursday, the trio once again was the focal point, this time for delivering their teammates outstanding production.
Same as they have much of the second half, Julien, Lewis and Wallner played a significant role in a 10-2 Minnesota Twins victory over the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field. Julien and Lewis homered early and Wallner singled in two runs in support of Kenta Maeda, who pitched a season-high seven innings as the Twins reduced their magic number to eight.
Each of the rookies reached base twice as the Twins increased their lead in the American League Central to eight games.
“They’ve started their major-league careers very well,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “They came in and produced from the very beginning. They came in and looked comfortable, like they could just come in and resume the good play they were giving us in Triple A. … We wouldn’t have as many wins if those guys didn’t come up and really get the job done.”
The Twins were ahead by two runs in the seventh inning when Wallner’s recent hard work in the cage paid off and broke the game open.
Experiencing an extended slump in which he struck out 28 times in 61 plate appearances and produced a .686 OPS, Wallner focused on a line-drive approach during a day off Monday. He produced instant results with a line-drive double Tuesday and ripped a solo homer Wednesday.
Wallner — who dressed as Buddy the Elf on Wednesday’s flight — followed with a third straight good game as the Twins opened a seven-game Midwest road trip with a cakewalk. After hitting a 112 mph single in the fifth inning, Wallner bounced a seeing-eye single through the right side to drive in two runs and give the Twins a 4-0 lead.
“I needed that one (Tuesday),” Wallner said. “Just putting the bat on the ball in play felt good. Once I got that, I kind of felt that I was going to be OK from there. I just needed that first one. … I’ve mainly been missing under fastballs, just trying to loft them a little bit too much so just trying to get back to a line-drive approach, middle, opposite way and if I pull the ball, I pull the ball.”
After he went 14 games between homers, Julien, who dressed as a Canadian mountie, performed the trick for the second time in three games. What made Thursday’s solo blast memorable — besides giving the Twins a 1-0 lead in the fourth — is that the rookie leadoff hitter lost his helmet immediately and ran 360 feet around the bases without one.
“He amazes me every day,” Baldelli said. “It’s something new with him every day. I’m looking for the helmet. I have no idea where the helmet’s at. He’s running around the bases bareheaded and it’s sitting at home plate. Just beautiful.”
Three batters later, Lewis provided another equally pleasing moment for the Twins when he hit a towering shot to give his club a 2-0 lead. Dressed as Dr. Evil for the team’s flight, Lewis is tied with Julien in leading the team’s rookies with 13 homers. Wallner has 12.
“I’m just trying to play catch-up with them,” Wallner said. “It’s fun to have us three in the lineup and the veterans just show us the way and just pull on our ends.”
Though there’s a lot of respect for the rookies among veteran players in the clubhouse, it was scaled back for Wednesday’s flight. Older players love Julien, Wallner and Lewis for their energy, ability to play every day and production.
Yet Wednesday night, those rookies were forced to endure the annual tradition in which their clothes were removed from their lockers ahead of a team flight and replaced by ridiculous costumes.
— Bally Sports North (@BallySportsNOR) September 15, 2023
Rather than focus on a singular theme, infielder Kyle Farmer, who hit a two-run homer and later scored from second on a heads-up play on Jorge Polanco’s infield single, and pitcher Pablo López focused on individual outfits tailored to each player’s personality or traits. They spent an estimated three to five hours determining each player’s look.
The mountie outfit was easy for Julien, who hails from Quebec. Teammates thought that with a shaved head and often wearing a bandana, Lewis resembled Dr. Evil. Despite not having a shaved head, Twins junior advanced scout Joey Casey dressed as Mini-Me to accompany Lewis. And Wallner’s height meant he ended up dressed like Will Ferrell’s classic Christmas character.
Other outfits included Brent Headrick dressed as Lt. Dangle from “Reno 911” while Louie Varland wore a Scooby-Doo outfit because he sometimes makes barking noises in the clubhouses.
Not only were the rookies dressed in costume, they also served veterans snacks and drinks on the 75-minute flight from Minneapolis. Then the entire crew also remained in costume for a team dinner at a local brew pub.
As much as the rookies have meant, the veterans didn’t want them to overestimate their worth.
“I had to dress up when I was a rookie,” Farmer said. “I was Edward Scissorhands. … I think just making the young guys feel like idiots for a day, that’s the main point of it. I think we accomplished it.”
Rookie dress up day 💁♀️
Who did the best? pic.twitter.com/r4UKMVDmoB
— Minnesota Twins (@Twins) September 13, 2023
Maeda’s longest outing of ’23 paces Twins
After Maeda completed seven innings and produced a triple-digit pitch count for the first time this season, Baldelli complimented him for providing the bullpen with a lift.
Maeda fell behind in counts routinely during the outing in hopes of getting aggressive White Sox hitters to chase. Even so, he fought back with a sharp split-fingered fastball that generated nine swings-and-misses and a fastball he commanded well.
“He pitched us deep into a game that we needed,” said Baldelli, “because our bullpen, in some ways, has been a little taxed. On the surface, it might not look like every single guy was spent. But we have some guys that could certainly use the day, and we needed a nice large start from one of our starters and we got it.”
Kenta Maeda, Wicked Splitters. 🤢 pic.twitter.com/CBQnTZ9rEO
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 15, 2023
Back in April, Maeda wasn’t confident he would have been able to put together a start like Thursday’s. Early in the season, he struggled with command and arm strength before the Twins placed him on the injured list for nearly two months. Yet the work Maeda put in during his time off is paying dividends, the veteran said.
Maeda allowed two earned runs and four hits while striking out eight and walking one over seven innings. He threw strikes on 69 of 105 pitches, including 14 swings-and-misses.
“In April, with the pitch-count buildup, I had worries about my arm being hurt or sore,” Maeda said through an interpreter. “After (the IL), slowly but surely, I felt more comfortable pitching longer innings, more pitches. To be able to do that tonight was certainly huge. It feels like the work has been paying off.”
(Photo of Royce Lewis: Michael Reaves / Getty Images)