DETROIT – The Twins' schedule on Thursday includes plenty of pregame pomp at Target Field, the franchise's 60th-anniversary home opener in Minnesota, and then a shot in the right arm.
That last one is medical. With the state of Minnesota extending eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines to all residents 16 and older, the team has arranged for postgame shots for all players, coaches and staff members who want it, along with members of their families. With an off day scheduled for Friday, that should lessen the risk of day-after side effects keeping anyone out of the lineup.
Once 85% of the Twins' Tier 1 individuals — about 65 players and 30 or so coaches and behind-the-scenes staff members — are vaccinated, MLB will lift many of the COVID protocols that now govern them. That means vaccinated players will not be required to wear masks in the dugout or bullpen, can eat at restaurants and can gather in larger groups, among other things.
Yet USA Today reported this week that many players around the league are skeptical of vaccines and hesitant to get the shot, and so far only the Cardinals have reached that 85% threshold. Twins shortstop Andrelton Simmons tweeted last month that "for personal reasons and past experience, I will not be taking it or advocating for it."
Manager Rocco Baldelli did not mention any dissenters in his team's clubhouse, but said the Twins are "trying to educate our players as to what this is and why we're doing it, and every guy is going to have to make his own call on what's appropriate for them and their families."
Baldelli has already said he intends to be vaccinated as soon as it's available. "We're not really going to be able to move forward and relax anything, both protocol-wise and also internally for all of us, until we have some clarity on this. [Until] we have reason to believe that we're all going to be safe, when we stop acting in the manner we are right now," he said. "So I think the vaccines are going to play a huge role in us being able to move forward."
Catching up fast
J.A. Happ's season has already been affected by COVID, since a positive test and a quarantine cost him two weeks of spring training. But the lefthander still got ready fast enough to make his first start as scheduled, and though it wasn't up to the standard he hopes to meet this season, it wasn't far off, either.
"I don't feel like I was missing by a lot. We're talking about a ball-width here or there on a lot of these pitches, and a couple of foul balls," Happ said of his four-inning, one-run, 89-pitch debut, which also included three walks. "That's something we'll continue to try and tighten up as best we can. But the mentality of staying committed [to his pitches] regardless of the count, from that standpoint it was a productive outing."
Happ's performance completed the first trip through the Twins' five-man rotation, and made it five consecutive days of optimism.
Happ mostly put up zeros, with his lone mistake being a high fastball that Robbie Grossman shot to the left-field fence for a double, scoring Jeimer Candelario, who had walked. But he worked out of trouble by striking out Jonathan Schoop and JaCoby Jones, ending his day on a positive note.
The Twins' collective starter's ERA after one appearance by each: 1.07, with seven walks and 31 strikeouts.
Step by step
Josh Donaldson took batting practice, a sign his right hamstring strain is healing. The Twins third baseman, injured in the first inning on Opening Day, has also begun regularly running on a treadmill to keep the hamstring stretched out. It's too early to say when he might return, Baldelli said.
"We're going to have him on the bases. We're going to make sure he's able to run, able to score from second base with zero issues," Baldelli said. "Things like that will be important before we know we can take the next step."