Jose Miranda is raking as Royce Lewis prepares to return

HOUSTON — Jose Miranda suspected in early March his shoulder was finally healthy again, but now he knows it. He has the results to back it up, too.

After a disappointing sophomore season full of uncertainty and offseason surgery to address a right shoulder impingement, Miranda is back playing at full throttle. Not only is he playing third base routinely and able to make all the throws, but he is also hitting in clutch spots again, similar to how he performed in 2022 during a strong rookie campaign.

Considering the big decision ahead for the Minnesota Twins, 5-2 losers to the Houston Astros on Saturday afternoon, Miranda finds himself well positioned. Even with the impending return of Royce Lewis and the roster crunch it promises to create, Miranda seemingly has secured a spot on the active roster. He’s batting .273/.306/.439 with five home runs and 18 RBIs in 147 plate appearances this season.

“(Last season) was pretty hard,” Miranda said. “As a player, as a professional, you don’t want to do bad. You want to produce. You want to stay up in the big leagues the whole year. You want to establish yourself in the big leagues. That was the main thing. Obviously, it was a rough process. But sometimes you’ve got to go through some stuff like that. To overcome that and now be doing what I’m doing and feel the way I feel right now, it’s great because I look back and I’m proud of myself. It was hard, but now I’m happy, excited and putting in a lot of work, too.”

After a good showing in Friday’s victory, Miranda finished 1-for-4 with an RBI in Saturday’s loss, producing another series of good swings. He’s doing that far more often these days, something he wasn’t capable of a year ago.

Miranda started dealing with an impingement in his throwing shoulder last spring, and it wasn’t fixed until he had surgery in October. The Twins shut him down from throwing for several weeks last spring, but it didn’t produce the desired results and lingered into the season.

Despite the discomfort, Miranda played on, to his detriment.

Whereas he’d produced a good rookie campaign in 2022, Miranda struggled in the field and at the plate. After hitting .268/.325/.426 with 15 homers and 66 RBIs a year earlier, Miranda saw his OPS drop by nearly 200 percentage points to .566 in 152 trips to the plate.

“He just wasn’t able to do a lot of it last year,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He couldn’t swing and he couldn’t throw last year. He was trying to do that, and that was futile.”

Though Miranda insisted then the injury wasn’t harming his swing, he now acknowledges it hampered him to a degree.

“It affected my throwing more than my hitting, but my hitting too because I was feeling a little different and cutting short my swing instead of following through how I normally do,” Miranda said.

Miranda’s early-season slump in 2023 led to a demotion to Triple-A St. Paul on May 10. Though it was hoped he’d require only a short stay, his own slump and a dynamic return from injury by Lewis prevented him from a promotion. Miranda finally got hot in June, producing an .826 OPS at Triple A, which brought him back to the bigs in early July after Lewis suffered an oblique strain.

But only a week after Miranda returned, he was shut down, as his shoulder continued to bother him. Miranda didn’t play again for the rest of the season.

In September, Miranda saw Dr. Jeffrey Dugas. Initially, Dugas suggested Miranda rehab the injury to avoid surgery. Three weeks later, Miranda was still in pain despite remaining in Birmingham, Ala., to work with a physical therapist. At that point, Dugas recommended surgery.

“It was a little tough,” Miranda said. “I was throwing, and at the end it just didn’t feel right. It kept bothering me.”

After the Oct. 4 procedure, Miranda recovered for three to four weeks.

Rather than return home to Puerto Rico, Miranda spent all but three weeks of the offseason at the team’s year-round facility in Fort Myers, Fla., rehabbing and preparing. He started hitting again in December and was healthy enough to make mechanical adjustments he’d been incapable of only a few months earlier. The video footage Miranda recorded of his swings made its way into the hands of his hype man, Carlos Correa. When Correa was asked about Miranda at TwinsFest in January, he was excited for his teammate.

“He looks really, really good,” Correa said. “He cleaned up his mechanics a lot. You can expect big things out of that man. He’s going to make decisions tough in this clubhouse.”

Miranda felt good at the plate in spring training, producing a .753 OPS in 28 plate appearances. He also handled the throwing program well and started throwing with consistency from third base beginning in mid-March. Even so, with Miranda behind Lewis on the depth chart and building arm strength, the Twins preferred to start him at Triple-A St. Paul.

His stay in the minors lasted only about a week. After the catastrophic opening-day injury to Lewis, Miranda was brought back to the majors April 8. Early on, the Twins planned to restrict Miranda’s usage at third base to limit his throwing. Those restrictions have since been removed, and his bat is consistent again.

Miranda carried a 114 OPS-plus into Saturday’s game, the same number he produced in 2022. He’s been even better in the clutch, batting .324/.366/.459 with 13 RBIs when hitting with runners in scoring position.

Even though Lewis is certain to take at-bats away from Miranda because he’s a superior defender at third base, there’s little talk about whether Miranda will remain in the big leagues. Lewis is expected to rejoin the team when it opens a three-game series on the road against the New York Yankees on Tuesday. Though the team has a difficult choice ahead if everyone remains healthy, Miranda isn’t likely to be the one going.

“I’m not worried about that one bit,” Baldelli said. “We have plenty of at-bats to go around. If we’re talking about too many guys playing well, we can certainly find ways to make that all work. That’s something we still have to get to. We’re not quite there yet. … But if we have guys who are playing good, we’ll find a way to get them in there.”

Asked about Lewis earlier in the week, Miranda said his focus is only on the things he controls. For now, he can control his repetitions, taking care of his shoulder and continuing to produce.

“I could tell when spring training started and I started swinging and playing I was feeling (good) when I was hitting,” Miranda said. “It felt normal. It felt different. I just came back to myself. The way I’m swinging right now, it feels totally natural. … I could tell it feels clean, it feels good, and I’m ready to go. It’s just more of a confidence thing that I know I’m healthy and can do my normal stuff.”

(Photo: Erik Williams / USA Today)

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