La Tortuga: The human highlight reel

April 24th, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS -- This week in Willians Astudillo web gems, the man known as "La Tortuga" homered on a pitch at eye level as part of Friday's 2-0 win over Pittsburgh, the highest offering hit out of the park by a Twins player in the Statcast era. 

"Don’t get his head all big," outfielder Jake Cave pleaded with media following Friday's game. "Don’t let him know, please." 

Too late. As it turns out, Astudillo was lurking just out of frame as Cave conducted his postgame press conference, trying to distract his teammate during his media obligation with all manner of gestures and faces. He definitely heard that -- and he knew that he'd homered on a crazy pitch, too.

He only let his pride show a little bit. 

"I was impressed with myself," Astudillo said. "That was a high pitch, but I liked it and swung on it, and it went out of the yard." 

It's been another eventful stretch of highlights for Astudillo -- even by his lofty standards. At 4.24 feet off the ground, the pitch was the highest hit over the fence in the Majors since September 2019, and don't forget that all this comes on the heels of a seven-pitch, 1-2-3 frame on the mound last Friday in the eighth inning of a blowout loss against the Angels.

After blowing up the radar gun with a strike at 46 mph and other pitches so slow that they didn't even register in Statcast's system, a proud Astudillo posted on Instagram on Monday, announcing his candidacy for the American League Cy Young Award.

He never practices pitching, he said, and he was simply trying to throw strikes. He'd felt that he'd thrown too hard in his last mound appearance back in 2018, so he took a little bit off his pitches last Friday. Maybe more than a little bit -- but he's thrilled about his new velocity. 

"Gasolina, papá," he said with a laugh. 

And, of course, don't forget the theatrics ever-present in his game, on display again in the second inning Friday night against Pittsburgh, when the barrel of a shattered bat flew with the ball towards Astudillo at first base -- and he comically ducked for cover and shielded his head with his hands, as though in a war zone.

How does he do all these things on the field? 

"I mean, we say [that] all the time when we’re talking about him," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "There’s always something that happens, and maybe more than one something that happens in the course of a game when Willians is playing. 

"He obviously, you know, homered on a pitch that might have hit the screen on the fly, and he also makes the play at first base and goes into the turtle shell, waits for the broken bat to go over his head, and then, you know, scurries over to first base and makes the play." 

But let's maybe cool it with the Cy Young talk for now. 

"He says he was 93-94 [mph] instead of 46, so we’re a little off," reliever Taylor Rogers said. 

Twins activate Thielbar from COVID IL 

Slowly but surely, the Twins' roster is starting to shed its COVID-19 troubles. 

On Saturday, the club activated left-hander Caleb Thielbar from the COVID injured list and returned Luke Farrell to the alternate training site. Thielbar had not been among the club's positive tests, but he was sidelined due to close contact to one of the people infected by the virus. 

"It was just more boring than anything," Thielbar said. "I mean, you’re sitting there and you know you feel good, so it’s hard to sit out when you don’t think you have anything, But I get it. It was just a little frustrating." 

Thielbar was placed on the COVID IL on Tuesday after he sat next to one of the people who later tested positive on the team flight to the West Coast. He didn't have much to do in his hotel room to pass the time while in quarantine and spent a lot of time reading and sleeping due to the lack of sports content available on television. 

He was fortunate enough to have a big enough room where he could throw against a mattress to keep his arm loose, and he was also able to throw against a backstop in a small park adjacent to the hotel. He got back into more regular action with a bullpen session on Friday, and was deemed ready for the active roster. 

"I sat in the wrong spot on the plane," Thielbar said. "That was it. That’s the frustrating part about it. I didn’t really do anything wrong. Just happened to be sitting in the wrong spot. That’s what’s the toughest part about this whole thing." 

Thielbar has 15 strikeouts in seven innings this season and carries a 5.14 ERA through five appearances. 

Max Kepler, Kyle Garlick and JT Riddle remain sidelined on the COVID IL.