Rocco Baldelli had one of those awkward it's-not-you-it's-me heart-to-hearts with Devin Smeltzer on Saturday, one that basically went: Congratulations. Thank you. And goodbye.
"I'll tell you this. It's never enjoyable in any way to send anybody down," Baldelli said after rewarding the lefthander for his 4⅔-inning performance in relief of Michael Pineda with an assignment back to St. Paul. "Especially after someone really gives you something, the way Smeltz did today."
The phenomenon of pitching so well that it costs you your roster spot is not new or even unusual, not the way MLB teams use relievers these days. Smeltzer threw 52 pitches in holding Pittsburgh to one hit and an unearned run, a sparkling performance in a 6-2 Twins loss that will keep him out of action for three or four days.
"Smeltz went out there and really picked us up. We didn't have to get other guys into the game," Baldelli said. "He kept us in a place where, yes, we were down, but we still had a chance to come back. And even on a day where you lose the game, something like that can have a very positive effect over the next week."
Trouble is, the Twins would rather their bullpen not be shorthanded in the interim, and Smeltzer, who was making his season debut for the Twins, can be sent down without being placed on waivers, so away he goes. The Twins will promote another player, presumably a reliever, on Sunday.
"The actual conversations you have with the players end up meaning a lot to them. It shouldn't be a cold conversation," Baldelli said.
Caleb Thielbar is ready to stop pitching into a mattress and start pitching to hitters again.
The Twins lefthander, ordered to isolate himself for a week because he sat next to someone on the team charter to Anaheim who tested positive for COVID-19, was reinstated to the roster Saturday.
Thielbar never contracted the virus, but spent a week by himself in southern California anyway, looking for something to watch on TV and trying to keep his arm loose.
"There was a park like a mile from the hotel," Thielbar said, and he threw into a backstop by himself once or twice. But he threw a few pitches in his room a couple of times, too, propping his mattress against a wall.
"Luckily, it was a big enough room," he said. "Normally, it wouldn't be a big enough room to do that without hitting your hand on something."
After testing negative for several days while his teammates went on to Oakland and then home, Thielbar was cleared to return to action. The Twins chartered a plane to carry Max Kepler, Kyle Garlick and a nonuniformed staff member, each of whom had tested positive, home from the West Coast, but Thielbar, in order to prevent exposure, was given a ticket on a commercial flight.
Luke Farrell, who pitched one scoreless inning during Tuesday's doubleheader in Oakland, was returned to the alternate camp in St. Paul.
Still no plan
One week after COVID-19 forced the postponement of two games in California, the Twins and Angels have yet to learn when the games will be made up.
"I don't think there are very many options in front of us," Baldelli said. "We only have so many off days that work."
The Twins are resigned to flying to Anaheim, playing both games as a doubleheader on an off day, and immediately flying cross-country again, Baldelli said. Other options — adding the games to the Angels' four-game visit to Target Field in July, or shortening the All-Star Break by a day, have been considered but ruled out. The Twins' only remaining trip to the West Coast, June 14-16 in Seattle, includes an open date on the 17th, but the Angels have a home game with the Tigers that day and are unlikely to prefer two doubleheaders that weekend.
That leaves May 20, Sept. 2 and Sept. 27 as the only realistic makeup dates, and all would present travel challenges for the Twins.
"Nothing is going to look ideal. … [but] there should be no complaints on our end," Baldelli said. "We'll work through it just fine. We'll muscle through, go out there, try to win a couple of games and come home."