OAKLAND, Calif. – The Twins returned from the West Coast with a 6-11 record, mentally drained from an 0-4 road trip that had three COVID-19-caused off days.
They were shut out in both games of a doubleheader in Oakland on Tuesday before a 13-12 loss to the Athletics Wednesday, when the tying and winning runs scored on an error with two outs in the 10th inning.
Still, hope starts anew Friday with a three-game homestand against Pittsburgh.
"Beautiful weather back here in Minnesota to get everyone's heads cleared," said Derek Falvey, Twins president of baseball operations. "If you go 6-11 in the middle of the season, when you're 70, 80 games into the season, it feels like a rough stretch, but you've got a lot more of a sample to kind of work off.
"Right now, it feels much heavier."
Falvey attributed some of the Twins' road woes to fluky bad luck, as when third baseman Josh Donaldson had the ball lodge in the webbing of his glove and failed to make an important out Wednesday.
But Falvey also said he and manager Rocco Baldelli thoroughly discussed different aspects of the games, including taking Donaldson out for a pinch runner in the top of the 10th inning, when Donaldson was set to be the runner to start the inning at second base. That set the wheels in motion for Travis Blankenhorn to make his season debut at second base in the bottom of the inning, with Luis Arraez moving over to take Donaldson's spot at third. Both infielders committed errors on the final two plays of the game, costing the Twins a victory.
Also in the discussion was bullpen management. Taylor Rogers has done well pitching before the ninth inning, but Alexander Colome has three blown saves as the early-season closer, including one Wednesday when he lost leads in both the ninth and 10th innings.
Falvey said he still feels Rogers —who pitched 2⅓ innings Wednesday, his first seven-out appearance since July 6, 2019 — does best in key sixth-, seventh- and eighth-inning situations, and Falvey has confidence in Colome's closing.
"I mean, Alex Colome is you know somebody who's been as successful as a closer as almost anybody in the game," Falvey said. "The last few years, I'm not sure there's many guys that have as many saves or more saves than he does over the last few seasons. He's done it, he's been there before. This is definitely a rough stretch for him. … I fully expect him to close games for us. Taylor will close games for us. I think a number of the guys that have pitched toward the back end will get those opportunities."
A subplot of the road trip was four more players going on the COVID injury list.
Shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who tested positive before the trip started, will need league clearance before playing again. Max Kepler and Kyle Garlick, who tested positive on the trip, will likely quarantine through the Pittsburgh series. Caleb Thielbar, also put on the list for close contact to a player who tested positive, could come back in time for at least part of the series. Infielder J.T, Riddle is also on the list but did not test positive.
All of the Twins' subsequent COVID-19 tests have come back negative through Thursday morning. The team is two weeks out from getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, meaning the full benefits of the shot could be in effect. Falvey said there are about 84 Tier 1 personnel, mostly players on the active and alternate site rosters, and 83% either have been vaccinated or have developed antibodies recently by having COVID-19.
Falvey said several of those Tier 1 people who turned down the first chance at vaccination have changed their minds and either already received a first dose of Pfizer or Moderna or are planning to do so soon. Should the team reach the 85% threshold, in can pull back some of the MLB-mandated COVID protocols.