Notes: Simmons back soon; manager pranks

April 25th, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS -- Twins shortstop will travel with the team to Cleveland on this coming road trip as planned and appears to be on track to return to the field at some point during that three-game series, manager Rocco Baldelli said Sunday.

Simmons has been out of action since April 14, when he tested positive for COVID-19 and went on the injured list before the Twins' doubleheader at home against the Red Sox.

"It’s going to be a little bit of a feel thing, along with our medical group having an opinion as far as when he should be back," Baldelli said. "But a lot of it is going to have to do with him just being on his feet for a few days, being able to go through full workouts, handle them no problem."

Simmons was cleared to rejoin the team and start baseball activities on Friday, and the Twins have started him on workouts to build up his body for everyday action. Baldelli said at the time that Simmons had been unable to do much physical activity while he was sidelined with the virus.

Baldelli said that the Twins plan to put Simmons through a more rigorous workout in Cleveland before Monday's series opener and make a determination in the coming days. His physical condition will be the major determining factor in his return timeline.

"I’m not super concerned with live at-bats with him right now," Baldelli said. "He has really good hand-eye coordination. He’s not a guy who’s going to take an incredibly long time."

The Twins are 2-7 since Simmons went on the IL. He was 11-for-31 (.355) with a .925 OPS before his positive test.

Once Simmons returns, the Twins will be able to return Luis Arraez to his intended multipositional role and move Jorge Polanco back across the diamond to second base, shoring up the at-times shaky infield defense that was a priority when they signed Simmons to a one-year deal on Jan. 31.

Baldelli, Shelton poke fun at each other throughout series
Considering the close friendship between Baldelli and Pirates skipper Derek Shelton, his former bench coach with Minnesota, there will never be any shortage of jabs being traded off the field, back and forth, between the two managers whenever the Twins and Bucs meet.

Baldelli got the last laugh during Spring Training, when he superimposed Shelton's face onto a scene from "Jaws" and played it on the Hammond Stadium video board when the Pirates were in town, and Shelton fired back before Friday's series opener with a custom-made shirt with Baldelli's face and a message recognizing him as MLB's most handsome manager.

(That's a title that Baldelli has been loath to accept, much to Shelton's continued delight.)

"He wanted to play reindeer games at the end of Spring Training, thinking that he had the last laugh with the shark thing," Shelton said of Friday's antics. "We have two days left here."

Baldelli returned the volley on Saturday by conducting his pregame press conference while holding a Speed Hitter, a coaching and training tool for which Shelton has served as a brand ambassador in advertisements and commercials. He followed that up by playing Shelton's commercial on the Target Field video board before Saturday's game -- but he insists he was just trying to help his old friend out, not shame him for his acting career.

"Yesterday, I thought we were doing Shelty a favor," Baldelli said. "I didn’t even consider that part of the back-and-forth, I actually just figured we were helping him sell a few more Speed Hitters and put a few bucks in his pocket."

Stashak recalled; Smeltzer optioned
Though Devin Smeltzer preserved the Twins' bullpen by allowing one unearned run in 4 2/3 innings of relief in Saturday's loss, Minnesota's fresh arm express rolled on as the club recalled right-hander Cody Stashak on Sunday and optioned Smeltzer back to the alternate training site.

Stashak was expected to be a major part of the Twins' bullpen this season but was optioned last Thursday in a similar move to make fresh arms available. The 26-year-old right-hander had a 7.20 ERA in five innings, though he did notch 12 strikeouts in that span.

"The guys understand why we do things," Baldelli said. "It gives then some really good perspective and allows them to also go forward and to prepare for the next time around even better. Every guy is different, and Smeltz understands what we do and how we do it."