Happ reports to Twins after battling COVID

March 2nd, 2021

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- is fortunate that his COVID-19 diagnosis was more of a logistical hassle than anything.

He arrived in Fort Myers, Fla., with his wife and three children before he tested positive as part of the intake process for Spring Training, and that diagnosis meant the entire group had to quarantine together. They had a challenging time finding a new house a bit further away, with more space for everyone to coexist.

But with all said and done, Happ was with the Twins for the first time on Tuesday. He threw around 33 pitches in a bullpen session for pitching coach Wes Johnson -- likely similar to where he would have been in a normal camp -- with the hope that there's still enough time for him to ramp up to be part of the Opening Day rotation.

"Taste and smell haven't come back yet, and that's just the weird one to deal with day to day," Happ said. "Other than that, I feel good. I feel healthy. ... I felt a little fatigue later in the day, but right now, I'm a couple hours out of my 'pen and doing some cardio inside, and I feel strong."

It was both surprising and disappointing for the 38-year-old Happ when he received the positive test at the start of camp. He had felt like he was in a great spot entering Spring Training, because he had thrown off a mound eight to 10 times during the offseason and had ramped up to around 40 pitches. It was frustrating for him to have that progress grind to a halt.

That offseason work ethic has been a significant part of why Happ has been able to stay on the field as much as he has throughout his career, he said. The left-hander's durability hasn't been much of a question over the last several years, as he has made at least 25 starts in every full season since 2014 and posted a 3.47 ERA in nine starts last season with the Yankees.

Happ did what he could during quarantine to maintain the form he built in the offseason, requesting a nine-zone net, a few dozen baseballs and a handful of weighted balls, kettlebells, resistance bands and a jump rope to make sure he could at least get his heart rate up every day. Now that he's allowed into the Twins' facility, he has to try to keep that disappointment in check and not try to overcompensate for that lost time.

"I’m going to try hard to not overdo it to get back into the games," Happ said. "That’s going to be the thing that I’ll be fighting, is trying to make up for two weeks in one week. It’s hard to do that, so I’ve got to keep reminding myself that we do have some time to get ready."

Easier said than done.

Happ said he was already getting frustrated at himself at times during his bullpen session on Tuesday, and Johnson had to calm him down a bit to make sure he wasn't pressing too hard. The Twins' other rotation candidates have all been throwing live batting practice sessions as part of camp, with José Berríos and Kenta Maeda pitching off the stadium mound and Michael Pineda and Matt Shoemaker getting their work in on the back fields.

The Twins will know more about Happ's timeline once they've had a chance to track and evaluate him over the course of the week, but he's confident that he'll make his regular season debut on time -- even if it isn't necessarily a full 100-pitch outing.

Hopefully, he'll be able to taste his morning protein smoothies by then, too.

"We’re going to be able to see just how much he was able to do," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "I’m still optimistic that he can get out there and make his first start of the season. And to be honest, if we deem that that’s not going to be the case, he’s not going to be very far behind regardless."