NORTH PORT, FLA. – With fewer than three weeks until Opening Day, there's no time to ease J.A. Happ into major league readiness. So there he was on Monday, making his Twins debut by facing the second-most potent offense in the big leagues.
"Seeing their lineup today, it was fun to get out there and compete," Happ said after emerging unscathed from one trip through Atlanta's hitting minefield. Happ pitched two shutout innings in his post-COVID return, and pronounced himself encouraged, even though Atlanta scorched relievers Devin Smeltzer and Robinson Leyer for five runs and a 5-1 victory at CoolToday Park.
After the game, Twins optioned infielders Travis Blankenhorn and Nick Gordon, outfielder Gilberto Celestino and catcher Ben Rortvedt to the minor-league camp.
The Braves are 4-0 against the Twins this season, and have outscored Minnesota 15-1 in three games at CoolToday Park.
"It certainly doesn't hurt to go through [some] things, pitching with guys on base, from the windup, from the stretch, different spots," said Happ, a free-agent pickup for the Twins' rotation last winter. "Certainly not [happy] putting guys on base, but after having a couple [workouts] and being able to jump back in and feel strong, it was nice to try to go through some things, for sure."
Smeltzer went through more, and for the third time in three outings this spring, allowed runs to score. He surrendered a titanic home run to straightaway center to Ronald Acuña, then walked a couple of batters and struck out a couple before giving up an RBI single to Johan Comargo. When he issued a third walk to load the bases, Smeltzer's day was cut short.
The Twins' makeshift lineup, meanwhile, was quiet for much of the day, with only Luis Arraez collecting two hits, both singles. Minnesota's lone run came on a Kyle Garlick home run onto the left field berm in the seventh inning.
The Twins return to Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers on Tuesday to face Pittsburgh at noon.