FORT MYERS, FLA. – The Twins' Grapefruit League opener against the Red Sox on Sunday will last only seven innings, the teams have agreed. In fact, it's likely that all of the Twins' spring training games in the coming week will stop after seven innings, as pitchers slowly build up their arm strength.
With no minor league camp to draw upon and only 32 pitchers among the 75-player limit, the Twins, like most MLB teams, are concerned that they don't have enough depth to cover nine innings every day for a month, at least not early in camp. Starting pitchers are normally limited to 30 pitches in their spring debut, and relievers roughly 20. In a normal year, the Twins use between 95 and 100 players over the course of spring training, with the late innings generally featuring Class AA and even Class A players.
A couple of other twists: The bottom of the seventh will be played even if the home team is ahead, so the visiting team can plan its pitching with some certainty. Innings can be declared over before three outs are recorded if a pitcher has thrown at least 20 pitches. And players who are removed from games are allowed to be reinserted later, to protect teams in case of injury.
"There will be a bunch of quirky things. There may not be as much attention paid to the scoreboard and the lineups and things like that," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "Teams are intent on being able to prepare, and less so on sticking to all of the rules that we normally play by."
One other big change: Fans will be watching. The Twins sold 2,400 seats, roughly one-fourth the capacity of Hammond Stadium, so they will be playing in front of the public for the first time since last March 11, the day the pandemic was declared.
"I'm so happy. It's going to be so cool," outfielder Jake Cave said. "Even in spring training, just having people cheering for you, it's cool. I know for my fiancée and my daughter, it will be cool for them to come back out to some baseball games. So I'm really excited."
Happ closer to return
His mandatory 10 days of isolation nearly over after testing positive for COVID-19, J.A. Happ will take another test Monday, the first step toward being reinstated to the active roster. The veteran lefthander must also undergo a cardiac evaluation to detect any damage done by the virus, and be cleared by an MLB Health and Safety committee, so it could still be a few days before he is in uniform.
Happ exhibited no symptoms of the virus when he reported to camp, and he has remained in contact with head athletic trainer Michael Salazar, so the Twins don't expect any setbacks. And Baldelli doesn't believe missing the first week of workouts will be an obstacle toward preparing the veteran for the start of the season.
"With his ability to move his arm and stay in pretty good throwing shape, he's going to have the ability to break [camp] and contribute in the first week of the season," Baldelli said. "Whether J.A. is completely built up by the end of camp, or it's an extra week, I don't think that's a very big deal one way or the other."
• Royce Lewis' right knee was successfully repaired on Friday, Baldelli said, with orthopedic surgeon Dr. Chris Camp sewing up the top prospect's anterior cruciate ligament during surgery in the Twin Cities. "It went very smoothly," Baldelli said.
• Kenta Maeda has been an Opening Day starter five times in Japan, but never in his five major league seasons. Would he like that to change on April 1? "It would be a great honor if I were to be able to throw the opening game," Maeda said through an interpreter. "But we have other great pitchers. It's up to Rocco and our coaches to decide who gets the nod."