FORT MYERS, FLA. — Miguel Sano's tribute to Mike Bell on Friday landed outside Hammond Stadium, beyond the center-field concourse, nearly 460 feet away from home plate.
"I said, 'That's for Mike Bell,'" Sano declared of the longest of the Twins' five home runs against the Braves. "I love him and will remember him forever."
On an emotional night, in a game that was nearly canceled after the Twins bench coach died of cancer, the Twins tried to put aside grief and focus on preparation, to mixed success. Kenta Maeda completed a nearly perfect spring with four more shutout innings, Willians Astudillo and Kyle Garlick tried to add to their cases for making the final roster by bashing home runs of their own, but the Braves scored six runs off lefthander J.A. Happ and walked away with a 7-6 Grapefruit League victory.
The mood in the Twins dugout, where Bell's jersey hung in his honor, was grim but determined, Maeda said after reducing his spring ERA to 0.49 — one run over 18⅓ total innings — by allowing just three singles in a brief four-inning, 59-pitch, five-strikeout tune-up for his Opening Day start next Thursday in Milwaukee.
"When I got on the mound and I saw his picture on the big [scoreboard], that's when it really hit me that this was real," Maeda said of Bell. "And on the mound, I dedicated my pitching to Mike and his family today. The best thing for me to do was to go out there and pitch to the best of my ability."
Maeda said his control was off, yet he managed to retire the Braves without allowing a walk, finishing his spring with only one allowed.
Happ, whose spring was delayed by a positive COVID test, wasn't as effective, giving up 10 hits, three of them doubles, and throwing a wild pitch that scored former Twins infielder Ehire Adrianza with another run. Happ's spring ERA inflated to 9.35.
Garlick, hoping to earn a spot as a reserve outfielder, hit his team-leading fifth home run of the spring, most by a Twin since ByungHo Park's six in 2017. An inning later, Astudillo, who may make the team as a combo infielder and catcher, connected on a long home run to center field, his third.
The Twins rallied with back-to-back home runs by minor-leaguers Jose Miranda and David Banuelos in the eighth, and an RBI single by last year's first-round pick, Aaron Sabato, in the ninth. But Braves prospect Freddy Tarnok closed out a bases-loaded threat and ended the game by striking out Banuelos.
Righthander Jhoan Duran, ranked fifth by Baseball America among Twins prospects and 96th among all teams, made his 2021 debut on Friday, but not in the regularly scheduled game. Duran, optioned to the minors on March 14, faced Red Sox minor leaguers in a B game. No results were announced.
No plans for Colina
Any roster moves the Twins had planned for Friday were put off after word of Bell's death reached camp. The Twins still have 35 active players, with five more days to cut that down to 26.
Manager Rocco Baldelli said Thursday that righthander Edwar Colina, who appeared in one major-league game last September, technically remains on the Twins' camp roster but will not come north with the team. Colina has yet to pitch this spring, though Baldelli did not disclose the reason.
"Colina is still working his way back," Baldelli said. "He's in a spot now where he's going to be taking care of his body, he's going to be spending some time in the training room, and getting back to full strength. Because he's not at full strength at the moment."
No vaccine for Simmons
MLB has not yet announced plans to obtain COVID vaccinations for its players, but at least one Twin revealed on Twitter that he doesn't want it.
"For personal reasons and past experience, I will not be taking it or advocating it," shortstop Andrelton Simmons tweeted Friday. "I hope I don't have to explain myself. And hope you all make the best decision for you and your family's health."