Carl Willis has been the pitching coach to five different Cy Young winners, and that's enough for him.
"I've never thought about managing," said Willis, a coach for two decades. "I always felt like, stick with what you know best. That pitcher-hitter matchup, and just seeing pitchers evolve into the pitchers I've been fortunate enough to see over the years, that's what I enjoy."
This weekend, Willis, one of the heroes of the Twins' last World Series winner in 1991, will get an opportunity to see what he has missed. Rather than fly to Minnesota from Chicago, where the virus forced postponement of Wednesday's game with the White Sox, Guardians manager Terry Francona and six members of his staff chartered a bus back to Cleveland on Thursday after testing positive for COVID-19.
Willis, who pitched for the Twins from 1991 to '95 and is in his fifth season of his second stint as Cleveland pitching coach, took over in the dugout Friday with a makeshift set of coaches summoned from all over the team's organization. Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, who just returned from a six-day COVID absence of his own, can sympathize.
"That would be exceptionally difficult on so many levels," Baldelli said. "I'm thinking of all the different specifics and everything that needs to be done in a ballgame, all the different side conversations that need to be had with players. … You kind of just have to let the players play. There's no other choice."
That's Willis' plan, too. He conferred by phone with Francona over the lineup and several other issues — outfielder Josh Naylor tested positive on Friday, for instance, and won't be available, either — but with so much experience missing from his own dugout, he needs the players to rely on theirs.
"I told the players, we just want them to play the right way. We're not going to get in the way," Willis said. "We'll make decisions as we have to, and we'll go ahead and go forward."
Willis' managing debut comes just down the street from where he memorably kept Game 6 of the 1991 World Series against Atlanta tied in the eighth and ninth innings, helping to make Kirby Puckett's historic "we'll-see-you-tomorrow-night" home run possible.
Bundy not ready
The Twins aren't over their own COVID issues, either. Righthander Dylan Bundy, who tested positive shortly after pitching in Baltimore on May 4, "is still working his way back from the COVID experience," Baldelli said, so he won't return to start on Saturday as originally planned.
The Twins will add another pitcher to start in his place, but Baldelli said before the game that the team wasn't ready to announce that yet.
Bundy tried to stay active while he waited for the virus to run its course, "but he wasn't able to do a ton," Baldelli said. "We got outside a little bit, played catch a couple of times, but physically, he just needs time to work his way back."
He's not alone. Luis Arraez collected a couple of hits in his return Thursday, but "I don't think he's completely back to himself, strength-wise," the manager said.
- The Twins and righthander Chris Paddack are still seeking doctors' advice on how to deal with the inflammation in his pitching elbow, and while they haven't settled on a surgical repair, "I don't expect Chris to pitch anytime soon," Baldelli confirmed, which is why the team put Paddack on the 60-day injured list Thursday. Baldelli described the move as "sort of a foregone conclusion."
- Kyle Garlick, out two weeks because of tightness in his right calf, homered in his first rehab start Friday for Class AAA St. Paul at Columbus. Baldelli hinted Garlick's assignment could be a short one. The Twins expect to face lefthander Zach Logue in Oakland early next week, and "if Garlick is ready, he'll probably [play] that game."