Max Kepler didn’t know what to think when he was informed he had tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month. He felt fine, after all, while the virus was running its course through his body, though he did lose his sense of smell a bit and he said Wednesday, April 28, it still was not fully back.
Minnesota Twins teammate Kyle Garlick wasn’t so lucky. He woke up the morning of April 17 with a cough and a sore throat, and didn’t think much of it. But as the morning wore on, he started feeling a bit more off. He didn’t have a fever, but he said team trainers decided to administer a rapid test just to be safe. It came back positive. Over the course of the day, he started feeling worse and worse, and by Sunday morning, his symptoms had hit him hard.
Kepler and Garlick are now nearing their returns after clearing COVID-19 protocols and returning to the field on Tuesday. Manager Rocco Baldelli said that same day that “hopefully end of the week” could be the timeline for the two outfielders.
Miguel Sanó, who also has been sidelined, said he feels confident he could be activated right around the 10-day mark, which would be Saturday, as he rehabs his strained right hamstring.
The Twins (8-15) kick off a three-game series at Target Field on Friday against the American League Central-leading Kansas City Royals (15-8). The Twins are coming off a 10-2 win over Cleveland on Wednesday, but getting any — or all — of the three sidelined players back could provide a boost for a team that has won just three of its past 16 games. All three worked out and participated in a practice game at CHS Field on Thursday.
Sanó, whose hamstring issue really flared up in Oakland, has been moving well since he resumed running Tuesday. On Wednesday, he hit off the machine and also took Andrew Albers deep at Target Field. On Thursday, he collected a hit in a game in St. Paul and stayed on the field afterward to participate in additional infield work.
“I’m working really hard over here. I’ve got to get ready and come back to the field and help my team. I feel great right now,” he said. “I’m working hard, (seeing) some pitching and (hitting) the ball.”
Sanó was hitting .111 with a .310 on-base percentage, buoyed by his team-high 13 walks in 15 games, and .244 slugging percentage before landing on the injured list. Not being able to contribute, especially as the Twins have gone through a difficult stretch, has been tough on him, he said.
“I feel really sad because I want to be with my teammates. We’re not in a good spot right now,” Sanó said Wednesday before the Twins beat Cleveland to snap a four-game skid. “It’s a hard situation because we have a different mentality at the start so everything’s not really (going) well right now but we’re still working.”
As tough as not being able to help out has been on Sanó, the past couple of weeks have been even harder on Kepler and Garlick, who had to isolate alone in their hotel rooms at the Westin South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Calif., after testing positive for the virus.
“(It was) pretty boring just sitting around not being able to do much,” Kepler said. “It sucks. I missed being around people, so I’m happy to be back.”
To cure his boredom, Kepler watched some television, did a little bit of reading and listened to music. He let his friends and family members distract him from his situation, listening to them talk about what was going on in their lives.
Garlick mostly did the same. While trying to fend off the virus, he drank a lot of fluids and ate the food, often ordered on DoorDash, that was left right outside his door to try to keep his energy levels up. The first couple of days, it kicked his butt, he said, but every day after that, he got progressively better for the next week until he reached 100 percent.
The isolation, he said, wasn’t that bad. More difficult was the worry he had about his teammates and if any of them had contracted the virus from him.
“I think the hardest part was really thinking if I was to spread this to more of the team, really. That was my biggest concern,” Garlick said. “I didn’t want it to really have a huge outbreak on the team and make it even more difficult for these games to happen.”
Thankfully, the virus didn’t spread any further within the clubhouse.
The two outfielders returned to the Twin Cities last Thursday on what Garlick described as a “medical flight,” which was a private flight with two pilots, a nurse, Garlick, Kepler and the Twins’ non-uniformed staff member who also had tested positive for COVID-19 while on the trip to California.
Since being cleared for baseball activity, Garlick and Kepler have had a chance to see live pitching and run around in the outfield, and both said they’re feeling physically well enough to be activated.
The Twins haven’t had their full position player group intact all season after a remarkably healthy spring. The nine starters in their Opening Day lineup have played together for just a half inning. Josh Donaldson strained his right hamstring during the first inning of the first game of the season, and the day he was activated from the injured list, Andrelton Simmons was placed on the COVID-19 list. Now both infielders have returned, but Kepler and Sanó have been out.
The month of April hasn’t been kind to the Twins, but a return to full health will be a start as they try to work their way back up in the standings.
“It’s not easy, everything we’ve been through this first month of the season. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs,” Garlick said. “It’s just going to make us mentally tougher for the rest of the season. It’s only been one month, and I know we can come back from this.”