January 29, 2023

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Blowout win, series victory — with Correa back, what's next?

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OAKLAND — Carlos Correa returned to the Twins’ lineup Wednesday and marked the occasion in the only manner that seemed fitting.

The veteran shortstop laced a single to right field as part of a three-run first inning against Oakland Athletics starter Daulton Jefferies. It was a sign of things to come, as the Twins pounded out a 14-4 victory that secured their first series win in Oakland (of three or more games) since the 2010 season.

Correa also lined an RBI double high off the wall in right-center in the fourth inning. He finished 2-for-4 with two runs scored in his first game back after missing the previous 11 contests with a bruised right middle finger. 

“I ​​truly missed being out there with them,” Correa said after the game. “I was getting kind of bored in the dugout. I was helping out in different ways, but at some point I started itching. Getting back out there, it definitely felt like Opening Day all over [again].”

In Correa’s absence, Minnesota’s top prospect, Royce Lewis, handled shortstop and dazzled in his first stint in the Majors. It was thought that perhaps the Twins might keep Lewis on the big league roster even after Correa returned. And when word spread in the Minnesota clubhouse Tuesday night that Lewis was being optioned to the Minors to clear a roster spot, it caught some players by surprise.

But Twins manager Rocco Baldelli explained that the club wants Lewis to continue playing shortstop and getting everyday at-bats. That wasn’t going to happen in the Majors for the time being with the return of Correa, who signed a three-year $105 million contract in the offseason.

Baldelli also said that keeping Lewis with the big club and having him skip around to different positions wouldn’t be healthy for the 22-year-old’s development. The Twins plan to give Lewis a bit of time at other spots in the Minors, though shortstop remains his primary position.

Correa’s performance Wednesday was evidence of why Minnesota feels it can afford to ship Lewis out for now. A two-time All-Star who won a Platinum Glove while with Houston, the 27-year-old Correa provides an impact bat in the No. 3 spot in the order. He also showed no ill effects defensively on Wednesday from the injury to his throwing hand.

“With Carlos back, it’s really nice to see him behind me at shortstop,” Twins starter Sonny Gray said. “Royce did a great job. It was really fun and cool to see him come up and get some time. But I think all of us feel very happy to have Carlos back. There’s no one I’d rather look over my shoulder and see playing shortstop than that guy.”

Gray (1-1) enjoyed quite a day himself, holding the A’s to two runs over six innings. He struck out five with no walks, registering his first victory in a Twins uniform.

It was also Gray’s first victory over the A’s in four career starts. He was Oakland’s first-round Draft pick in 2011 and went to his first All-Star Game as an Athletic in 2015.

“I had never beaten the A’s before,” Gray said, “so I really wanted to — selfishly, personally — wanted to do that.”

The significance of matching up against Jefferies wasn’t lost on him either. Gray was with the A’s when they drafted Jefferies with the 37th overall pick of the 2016 Draft. Jefferies, a Northern California native, said he grew up watching Gray pitch at the Coliseum. He was thrilled when he signed with the A’s and got to meet Gray during a trip to the Coliseum in 2016.

Gray and Jefferies reconnected Monday and chatted before the series opener.

“If you think of full circle, he was in high school watching me [pitch] here, and now I’ve moved on and he’s doing it here,” Gray said. “I know it was probably a pretty cool feeling for him. Same on my side as well. … I hope he gets it going.”

With Correa back in the lineup, Minnesota has the potential to keep things rolling as a team. The Twins’ win Wednesday improved their record to 22-16 and gave them a three-game lead over the Chicago White Sox for first place in the American League Central.

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