Monday’s off day couldn’t have come at a much better time for the nicked and bruised Minnesota Twins, who will use the day in the Tampa Bay area to rest and recover before taking on Major League Baseball’s best beginning on Tuesday night.
Facing the Tampa Bay Rays (42-19) at Tropicana Field, where they’ve lost just six games this season, is a challenge that’ll be even more difficult if some key Twins players are unable to take the field.
Designated hitter Byron Buxton has been out since Thursday, when he took a Tanner Bibee fastball to the ribs. Shortstop Carlos Correa left that same game, a flare-up of his plantar fasciitis forcing him out of action. Manager Rocco Baldelli expressed hope and optimism on Sunday that the two Twins stars could be back on Tuesday when the Twins take on MLB’s only 40-plus win team.
“I think they’re both in a much better spot than they were a couple of days ago,” Baldelli said. “I’d like to say, ‘Yes, I expect them both to be in the lineup.’ I think they will be, but I’m not positive about that yet.”
First baseman/outfielder Alex Kirilloff missed Sunday’s game with a stomach ailment, and during the game, infielder Royce Lewis collided with Cleveland first baseman Gabriel Arias, somersaulting over him and landing hard on his neck. The loss, Lewis said after the game, hurt more than the scrapes and bruises he acquired as a result of the play.
“I’m going to be pretty sore for a day or so. It’s nice that we have an off day tomorrow. I’ll celebrate my birthday resting up,” said Lewis, who turned 24 on Monday.
That off day will be plenty valuable as the Twins (31-29) try to get key components of their lineup ready to face the Rays, who began their season with 13 consecutive wins and have maintained MLB’s best record throughout the season. A trip to Tropicana Field will provide another good test for the Twins, who just last week went to Houston and took two of three from the defending World Series champions.
Jorge Lopez searches for answers
The March and April version of Jorge Lopez looked very much like the pitcher the Twins believed they were trading for last year. The May and early June version? Well, that’s another story.
It’s been a frustrating month for the reliever, who did not give up an earned run this season until May. Now, he’s given up 13 runs — 12 earned — in his past 12.0 innings. The six home runs he’s surrendered in the past month is more than he gave up all of last season.
“I just need to get better,” he said. “It’s my personal thing to come here every day and try to get better. … I just want to be great out there, like everybody else. … It’s my time right now to keep improving at any time.”
And the Twins’ bullpen sure needs that from him.
Jhoan Duran has been Jhoan Duran, but aside from him, the Twins haven’t gotten what they’ve been looking for from their high-leverage group of late for a couple of different reasons. Caleb Thielbar, who returned over the weekend, missed a month with an oblique strain, and both Lopez and Griffin Jax have run into rough patches — Jax has now made six straight scoreless appearances — forcing Brock Stewart and Jovani Moran into higher-leverage roles.
Lopez was a big factor in the Twins’ early-season success, and getting him back on track is critical for the Twins.
“He’s working to find himself a little bit on the mound. I think he’s experimenting a little bit with different things,” Baldelli said of Lopez. “… I think he’s trying to find that release point or that feel for his pitches that he may not have had over the last few weeks. He’s working and he’s doing what he can right now. It’s not coming easily. It’s also why it’s important to get him out there and let him keep pitching and continue to try and find himself on the mound.”
The Twins will send Louie Varland, Pablo Lopez and Bailey Ober to the mound to pitch against the Rays in this week’s series.
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