Twins star Royce Lewis calls recovery from right quad strain ‘most challenging rehab’ ever

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MINNEAPOLIS — The guy with two blown-out knees deems his current rehabilitation process the most difficult of his career.

Without hesitation, Royce Lewis, who has twice torn his right anterior cruciate ligament, each resulting in a year of rehab, said waiting to receive the all-clear after suffering a severe right quad strain is more taxing than previous injuries.

Five weeks after he suffered the Opening Day injury, the budding Minnesota Twins star is progressing as expected. Lewis learned a week ago during an ultrasound his quad muscle isn’t 100 percent but is healing as planned.

Though no official timeline has ever been established, the Twins originally suggested Lewis would need eight weeks to return to the field with his quad needing about six weeks to heal fully, according to multiple sources.

During a press conference in which they revealed Byron Buxton is headed to the 10-day injured list with right knee inflammation, Twins officials said Friday they’re pleased with Lewis’ recovery. But that doesn’t make any of this easier for Lewis, who simply wants to play.

“I’ve just got to keep continuing to wait,” Lewis said. “The hardest thing is not having a timeline. … When you have no idea and you feel so good, it’s the most challenging rehab I’ve ever had. … I am waiting for the call. This is more anticipation than my debut call. I’m waiting for the call to just go back out there to play.”

The signs Lewis is progressing are there.

His baseball activity has increased tenfold during the Twins’ recent seven-game road trip. Before, Lewis was limited to upper body lifts. During a pregame workout Friday, Lewis took 80 swings in the cage, jogged on the warning track and took 15-20 groundballs at third base.

“Royce is tracking in a pretty good direction,” Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. “The MRI revealed he’s kind of at the return you’d expect him to be at this stage. No faster, no slower. Nothing has really changed. A moderate enough quad strain was going to take some time here.”

Lewis injured himself running the bases on Opening Day in Kansas City. Two innings after blasting a home run in his first at-bat of the season, Lewis was attempting to score from first base on a Carlos Correa double when he pulled up injured.

The Twins didn’t want to place an official timeline on Lewis because of the tricky nature of the injury. The window for his quad muscle to completely heal was projected to be anywhere from four to six weeks with expectations geared toward the latter.

Hoping to go into last week’s one-month review and discover doctors thought he was ready, Lewis emerged disappointed. He hoped he’d heal fast enough to be cleared earlier and prepare to join his teammates. Given how Lewis performs on the field and how much time he’s already lost to injuries, it’s no surprise how much the uncertain timeline makes his recovery difficult.

“I feel great, I feel like I can go play, I can perform at a high level, but I’m not allowed to,” Lewis said. “I don’t feel like I’m being held back, by any means. I feel like they’re taking the best care of me. But from what I feel, that’s hard for me to understand that. And that’s where the mental challenge comes in for the rehab. But I do trust them. It has nothing to do with a trust issue. It’s just a fact of like how I feel, and emotionally, that hurts. I love this game. I want to play. I just miss the game. I would do anything to go play every day, just like I was when I was a little kid.”

Throughout his career, Buxton has done everything in his power to stay on the field while struggling to do so. Manager Rocco Baldelli said Buxton’s knee hasn’t been at 100 percent this season but the center fielder has played on, appearing in 28 of the team’s previous 30 games, including 24 in the field.

But after he felt soreness Wednesday and an MRI revealed inflammation but no structural damage, the Twins thought the prudent choice was to rest and treat Buxton.

Even though it’s another IL stint for Buxton, one retroactive to Thursday, the Twins expressed optimism. In fact, the Twins waited until after Buxton arrived at the park Friday to determine whether or not the placement was necessary.

“From what I heard, I am pretty optimistic that this is not something that is going to hold him down an overly long time,” Baldelli said. “He should be back at some point, a couple of weeks, 10 days, two weeks, something like that. But we’re going to have to just wait and see how the next few days go.”

Falvey suggested the Twins could have attempted to give Buxton a few days off and play short-handed but didn’t want to pursue that route.

“(Buxton) knows this is a long season,” Falvey said. “He wants to be in a good place, because he is still dealing with some tenderness and some tightness. You don’t want to be chasing that every couple of days. So we want to try and get ahead of it here. … We feel like we caught it at a time where we can get him some treatment and hopefully get him back on the field soon.”

The Twins also placed reliever Brock Stewart on the 15-day IL with right shoulder tendinitis. The club monitored Stewart’s workload in recent days, holding him back from pitching Tuesday after he pitched the night before.

Stewart convinced team officials before Wednesday’s game he was fine and pitched, surrendering a solo homer that snapped his scoreless-innings streak at 25. But shortly before first pitch Friday, the Twins placed Stewart on the IL and recalled Kody Funderburk. Earlier in the day, the Twins promoted reliever Jorge Alcala from Triple A to take a vacated spot on the active roster.

(Photo of Royce Lewis: Matt Krohn / USA Today)

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