Sanó returns to Twins 'and hit some bombas'

Slugger cleared for workouts after testing positive during intake

July 16th, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS -- stood in the right-handed batter's box at Target Field and took a mighty hack. The ball popped straight up, into the netting of the batting cage around him. Another big swing. Same result.

Twins hitting coach Edgar Varela unleashed another pitch, and this time, the satisfying crack of the bat was accompanied by the majestic arc of the baseball as it soared into the upper deck in left field. Another immediately followed.

Now, that's more like it.

"I came here and hit some bombas, like I do," Sanó said. "And now, I'm ready to play every day and ready to start the season."

Sanó said he nearly cried when he got the call from Twins head athletic trainer Michael Salazar on Wednesday, informing the first baseman that he had cleared the testing protocol and was eligible to join his teammates in Summer Camp. Sanó had tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in Minneapolis as part of the club's intake protocol and had to remain in quarantine until he exhibited two negative tests at least 24 hours apart.

There were no tears left by the time the big man was done with his agility drills and outdoor batting practice on Wednesday; Sanó flexed and joked around in front of the camera during his video call with reporters as he bounced and beamed in his first day back at the ballpark.

"It's a really hard time, especially because I worked really hard during the pandemic in the Dominican Republic to be in shape for whenever they told us it's OK to come back to play a season," Sanó said. "Then, when I got back to the States, I tested positive and it was really hard because I had to isolate myself. I used to cry in bed at night missing my family and the people around me because I had to be by myself to protect them as well."

Sanó was one of five players among the Twins' 60-man player pool to test positive for COVID-19. Edwar Colina has also been cleared for participation, but Willians Astudillo, Nick Gordon and Wilfredo Tovar remain in quarantine.

Sanó's return didn't come a moment too soon for the Twins. Opening Day is only nine days away, and Sanó will need all the reps he can get on defense in particular as he adjusts to first base due to the arrival of Josh Donaldson in Minneapolis.

Sanó said he bounced plastic balls against the wall to practice his defensive technique as he quarantined in his basement, separated from the rest of the house. He's studied footage of first basemen like Justin Morneau, Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera as part of his adjustment to the position. He also spoke with Morneau throughout the original Spring Training period in addition to his work with third-base coach and infield coordinator Tony Diaz.

At a certain point, though, there's no substitute for live reps, and time is running short for those before the games begin to matter. It's still unclear as to whether the Twins feel that Sanó could be fully ready for the regular-season opener on July 24 in Chicago.

"I did the best I could every day down there to try and get myself ready in my mind and try to keep my mind and body strong," Sanó said.

Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said on Tuesday that the physical conditioning element was more important than the defensive ability when it came to the question of Sanó's availability. Sanó acknowledged on Wednesday that he's not exactly in the best condition of his life due to the quarantine, but Baldelli said that the initial physical evaluation of Sanó at Target Field was quite promising.

"You can tell he’s been certainly moving around and doing some things," Baldelli said. "He has not been sedentary. He was not off to the side with his feet up. His athleticism has not gone anywhere. So that’s very, very encouraging."

Sanó also had access to a tee and net to take some swings while he waited for his bout with COVID-19 to subside, but he'll still be nearly two weeks behind most of his teammates in terms of facing live pitching.

"Is he going to be absolutely ready in every possible way? I can’t answer that," Baldelli said. "I don’t know if anyone could. He may be in good shape physically [but] may not have seen enough pitching. He may be ready to go in every possible way. That’s what this next week is for for us. It’s to take the time and assess things."

Sanó is, of course, already champing at the bit.

"I'm ready for [playing] today," he said.

He'll be able to start making up for lost time on Thursday, when he'll skip the scheduled off-day and go work out at the alternate training facility in St. Paul, Minn. Then he'll return to Minneapolis and get back to the grind with Nelson Cruz and his other teammates who were waiting for the biggest missing piece of the Bomba Squad.

And he'll do it all with a massive smile on his face.

"That's what it felt like when I saw my baby born in 2017," Sanó said of his happiness to return.