Twins clinch AL Central title, hope Royce Lewis recovers in time for playoffs

MINNEAPOLIS — Mark Oct. 2 on your calendars.

For all the hope and goodwill the Minnesota Twins can muster, nothing matters until the day before the wild-card round, when they determine whether Royce Lewis is ready to play.

The Twins hinted at optimism Friday about the early progress their rookie star is showing after being diagnosed with a Grade 1-plus hamstring strain. The team placed Lewis on the 10-day injured list that same day, effectively ending his regular season.

But all the Twins can do is rest and treat Lewis for the next 10 days, in the hope he recovers enough to be ready for the playoffs, which are set to begin Oct. 3.

“It’s a little bit on the plus side of mild,” Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. “Meaning, like, a little bit more than a mild strain. He’s dealing with some inflammation in there. The good news is he’s already starting to feel better. I think he’s moving around OK. We’re just going to have to wait it out and see what the next week and a half brings, in terms of how well he can get into his legs, obviously running, but even swinging.”

A Grade 3 strain would have cost Lewis months. A Grade 2 strain would require multiple weeks at a time when there aren’t that many left on the calendar. Even if there’s a “plus” added on, the Twins feel fortunate the diagnosis is only a Grade 1 strain.

Feasibly, Lewis could return in time for the playoffs.

One day after his early-morning MRI, Lewis was in good spirits. Before speaking to the media, Lewis headed to the field for hand work with coach Tony Diaz. He also was spotted riding a stationary bike in the clubhouse in Cincinnati on Wednesday morning.

Though Lewis was noncommittal when asked whether he’d be ready for the playoffs, he left no doubts about his desire to play.

“We’re trying to work as hard as we can to get back as fast as we can and obviously make a push for the playoffs,” Lewis said. “I’m optimistic for the best. You know me. I’m always happy and positive. I’m positive I could play tomorrow, though, right? I would do anything for this team. They know that. I’m going to work hard. I don’t know when the IL stint is over, but that’s obviously my goal.”

The Twins likely won’t push Lewis too hard until they get closer to the playoff workout, which will be held Oct. 2 at Target Field. The goal is to get Lewis healthy enough to play the field. But first and foremost, they want to know if he’s capable of hitting in a game.

With Byron Buxton’s return iffy and the rookie a focal point in the team’s second-half resurgence, the Twins would take Lewis in the lineup any way they could have him, including as the designated hitter.

“We’re going to see just how he’s probably swinging the bat,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I think that’s probably the first thing we’re going to have to figure out, because if he can swing the bat without compromising his hamstring in any way, then we can have a discussion about what he’s capable of. If he can’t swing the bat, then he can’t swing the bat, and that kind of answers that question for us. But we won’t know that until next week yet.”

Lewis spent the day off Thursday splitting his time between the hospital and the trainer’s room. His MRI took place at 6:40 a.m., and he headed to Target Field for treatment and to await the results, which he received in the early afternoon.

At noon, he settled into the trainer’s room for more treatment, which was administered over five hours, with the plan to rinse and repeat until the playoffs.

“Hopefully tomorrow, we can keep pressing into a more positive direction,” Lewis said.

Twins offense paves way in clincher

Alex Kirilloff blasted a go-ahead home run in the sixth inning Friday, and the Twins offense kept adding on.

After blowing a three-run lead, Kirilloff’s solo homer put the Twins ahead for good. They captured the American League Central title with an 8-6 win over the Los Angeles Angels at Target Field.

Kirilloff had two sacrifice flies and finished with three RBIs, and Michael A. Taylor drove in two more as the Twins clinched their first division title since 2020. It’s the team’s third division title in five seasons under Baldelli and is the result of a 37-26 second-half stretch.

“We knew what we had,” catcher Ryan Jeffers said. “It was kind of a waiting game. We knew what we had, we knew it was going to come, we knew it was going to click. Now we have all three sides — pitching, defense and offense — really rolling. We’re a pretty dangerous team.”

Even without Lewis and Carlos Correa, the Twins reached base 17 times. Kyle Farmer walked twice, singled and doubled in a run in five trips to the plate. Jorge Polanco also doubled twice, walked and drove in a run for the Twins.

Pablo López started strong but surrendered three runs in the fifth inning, allowing Los Angeles to rally from a 3-0 deficit. López struck out seven in six innings.

Paddack strong in relief, close to return

Chris Paddack beamed with joy when describing his first relief appearance of the season. Rehabbing from his second Tommy John surgery, Paddack pitched three scoreless innings Tuesday and struck out four batters at Triple-A St. Paul; his fastball touched 98.2 mph on the radar gun.

But Paddack is more pleased about being successful in an awkward position than with the results.

“The bullpen on Tuesday night changed my career,” Paddack said. “All I’ve ever known is following a clock. Doing 15 reps with bands. Narrowing it down to a routine that I’m just so superstitious about and almost a robot too. I didn’t know how to respond or what to expect.”

Everything about Friday was different for Paddack, who has made 100 career starts and only six relief appearances, four of which occurred in 2015 at rookie ball. He played catch with the other pitchers about four hours before the game and didn’t put his headphones on to focus until an hour before the game. Then he headed to the bullpen and asked everybody what to expect.

“Knowing my body can adapt to whenever that phone call rings, I’m ready to go,” Paddack said. “It’s not, hey, give me an hour before I’m ready to go out there and compete.”

The Twins will determine what Paddack’s role is and are expected to activate him later this week. But Paddack — who last pitched in the majors last May — could be available to pitch in relief when the playoffs start.

“He’s been everything we could have asked,” Falvey said.

Et cetera

Brock Stewart walked one and struck out two in a scoreless inning at St. Paul on Friday night. He touched 97.6 mph and averaged 96.8 mph. In three scoreless innings, Stewart has struck out five batters and walked two. He’s expected to join the Twins this week, Falvey said. … Buxton was in good shape after Thursday’s contest at St. Paul; he went 1-for-4 with a seeing-eye single. Buxton will play as the Saints’ designated hitter Saturday night. “It’s just evaluate day to day,” Falvey said. … The Twins asked Major League Baseball and were pointed in the direction of a loophole to keep outfielder Jordan Luplow, who was designated for assignment Tuesday. Because he wasn’t outrighted off the 40-man roster and simply DFA’d, the Twins were able to keep him by getting him to agree to being optioned to Triple A, only to be recalled when Lewis went on the IL. The move required Luplow’s consent because he has five years of service time, Falvey said. … Jorge Alcalá struck out four in two scoreless innings at St. Paul. He had eight swings-and-misses in 21 pitches, touching 98.6 mph with his fastball. … Prospect Kala’i Rosario, whom The Athletic’s Aaron Gleeman ranked 15th on his midseason Twins prospect list, is one of eight farmhands set to play for the Glendale Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League. Catcher Andrew Cossetti and 2020 first-round pick Aaron Sabato are also on the team’s AFL roster.

(Photo of Jhoan Duran: Jordan Johnson / USA Today)

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