After bout with COVID-19, J.A. Happ reports to Twins spring training

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Phil Miller, Star Tribune
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FORT MYERS, FLA. – J.A. Happ still can't taste his daily smoothie, still can't smell his dinner. But pitch? COVID didn't take that from him.

Happ reported to Twins camp on Tuesday, more than 10 days after testing positive for the virus and serving a mandatory quarantine along with his wife and three kids. And once the paperwork was out of the way, Happ took the mound for a brief bullpen session, throwing 33 pitches as he begins catching up to his teammates.

He'd like to catch up all at once. He had to be reminded by pitching coach Wes Johnson that it's not a good idea.

"I was getting frustrated with myself in that bullpen and he had to calm me down a little bit," the 38-year-old lefthander said. "I'm already pressing a little bit, and they're holding me back and helping with the mental part."

More than four weeks remain in spring camp, though, so Happ, who worked out daily during quarantine, figures he'll be ready, or close to it, by Opening Day.

"I'm still hopeful of that, too," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "I'm still optimistic he can make his first start of the season, and to be honest, if we deem that's not the case, he's not going to be very far behind."

Happ said his offseason program actually had him expecting to be ahead of schedule when he arrived, a plan thwarted when he became infected from some unknown source. He was asymptomatic when he was tested, and was shocked by the result.

"I still don't know" how he caught COVID, Happ said. "I'm guessing maybe the flight down, but I don't know. Frustrating to say the least, but I'm glad it's behind me now."

Simmons soon?With Happ in camp, only one player, new shortstop Andrelton Simmons, has yet to report — and that should change soon, too, Baldelli said.

"We're hoping to have Andrelton in camp and available by the end of the week," Baldelli said. "We believe that he'll be able to get all of his paperwork and documentation in order, and will get here and get tested and hopefully be out on the field by the end of the week."

Simmons has been stranded at his home on Curacao, unable to get an appointment necessary to obtain permission to enter the United States. He's stayed busy by working out on his own.

"I texted him, just checking in, a while ago. He said he was able to do his baseball stuff with his brother," Baldelli said. "It's hard to know exactly what a guy has been able to do. The swings and throws and infield work is a big part of our game, and that endurance factor will certainly come into play. I'm positive he's been able to get quality work in, from everything I've heard."

Moving aroundByron Buxton batted second in the Twins' lineup Tuesday, after batting fifth on Sunday, both spots in which he started only one game apiece in 2020. Buxton started at least one game in every spot but third or fourth last season, and Baldelli said he's likely to move around a lot again this year.'

"I am open to moving Buck around in the lineup. A couple of years ago, Buck was hitting mainly in the nine-hole. We started to move him around a little bit more last year, and I would see him continuing to move around," the manager said. "Frankly, he could hit almost anywhere in the lineup and continue to make big contributions wherever he's at."

OuchA rushed throw from pitcher Ian Gibaut drew first baseman Chris Williams off the bag — and out of the game — during Tuesday's loss to the Braves in North Port.

As the Class A infielder reached for the errant throw, the bone in his left shoulder came partly out of its socket. Athletic trainer Jason Kirkman was able to put the shoulder back in place, and Williams "seems OK now," Baldelli said, but he was removed from the game.