Following three days of postponements due to COVID-19, the Twins finally returned to action with a doubleheader against the A’s on Tuesday at the Oakland Coliseum — but the team that took the field looked quite different from the one that was last in action on Friday.
The Twins placed Max Kepler, Kyle Garlick and Caleb Thielbar on the COVID-19 injured list early Tuesday, where they joined Andrelton Simmons, who has been sidelined with the virus since last Wednesday.
After Simmons tested positive during the Twins’ last homestand, an unnamed staff member tested positive on Friday following the club’s arrival in Southern California for their series against the Angels, while Kepler and Garlick then tested positive for the virus on Saturday, as announced by manager Rocco Baldelli. Thielbar did not test positive, but he is sidelined as a close contact.
Kepler, Garlick and Thielbar remain in quarantine at the Twins’ team hotel in Anaheim. All are said to be asymptomatic or experiencing mild symptoms. Their travel arrangements back to Minneapolis will be determined in the coming days.
The club did not have any further positive tests to report when Baldelli addressed the media before Tuesday’s games. The Twins did not have any additional positives on either Sunday or Monday, which cleared them to proceed with their schedule.
“I don’t look at it and think we’re in the clear at this point,” Baldelli said. “I think we still have to monitor ourselves. I do feel confident that we’re doing a good job, and we’re doing the right things right now, but I can’t sit here and say, I know — or feel very confident — that we’re not going to have any further issues.”
In corresponding moves, the Twins called up most of their taxi squad to fill the three vacancies on the active roster. They recalled utility infielder Travis Blankenhorn, selected the contract of right-hander Luke Farrell and reinstated Brent Rooker (cervical neck strain) from the 10-day injured list. They also added left-hander Lewis Thorpe as their 27th man for the doubleheader.
As part of the taxi squad, all four of those players had been subjected to testing and isolation with the main travel group. Baldelli said the Twins did not come close to flying other players out to California from the alternate training site.
“Commercial flights are becoming a challenge for us to use as an option,” Baldelli said. “We have three games in two [days] coming up. I think we have the personnel to cover everything and get everything done, and go win some games.”
With that said, the Twins could have some odd defensive fits in the coming days, considering they lost two outfielders and added only one. That was immediately evident in the first lineup on Tuesday, in which Luis Arraez moved to left field and Willians Astudillo was slotted in as the starting second baseman for just the third time in his career.
It does help that Byron Buxton’s strained right hamstring has recovered to the point where he was able to return to action on Tuesday. He had been in the Twins’ starting lineup against the Angels on Saturday before the game was postponed, and has now had several extra days off since then.
“I think Buck’s doing much better and is feeling pretty good,” Baldelli said. “I mean, we’re talking about a hamstring, and it’s not something that you can generally fake or play through or anything if you’re not healthy. So we do think he’s at the point where he can handle it and go out there and give us what we need.”
The Twins hope that the results from their saliva samples collected Tuesday morning will continue to show no additional positives when they’re informed of the results either later Tuesday night or on Wednesday. But for now, they hope that they’ve endured the majority of what’s been a tough stretch for this team and will come out the other side as a stronger group.
“I would say this has got to be one of the most emotional periods of time that I’ve spent in the game, and I mean that in a pretty broad-spanning way,” Baldelli said. “When you go through something, and go through it as a group, I think you can find a really nice strength in that and then build on something as you kind of traverse the situation and succeed while going through it.”