Just in case, Alex Kirilloff made an unusual admission about facing the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday.
"I'm not really rooting for them today," the Twins' top prospect said.
With that clarified, the Pittsburgh native embarked, a few weeks later than originally planned, on what the Twins hope is a long and productive career in Minnesota. With two outfielders sidelined by positive COVID-19 tests, and Twins left fielders posting a worst-in-the-league cumulative .412 OPS, the Twins' spring-training hesitance to promote their 2016 first-round pick has melted away.
Is he at Target Field for good?
"I have Alex, in my mind, having a very successful, long big-league career. Exactly every turn, and how that happens, no one knows," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "Certainly there's the possibility we see this young man come up to the big leagues and stay. He's going to have at-bats, and we're going to see what he can do."
That was the plan heading to spring training, too, but Kirilloff batted only .129 in Grapefruit League play, and the Twins decided to let him "settle in" at St. Paul, since he had never played a Class AAA game. Though he still hasn't, Baldelli said the reports on him have been good, and events forced their hand.
Getting to "debut" — aside from his 27th-man cameo during last week's doubleheader vs. Boston — against his hometown Pirates just seemed appropriate, too.
"It's special for sure," said Kirilloff, whose single against the Astros in the wild-card round in September made him the only player in MLB history to collect a hit before playing a regular-season game. "To look up and see the team in the other dugout that I kind of grew up rooting for definitely is a special experience."
Simmons' return soon
Shortstop Andrelton Simmons has cleared COVID protocols, meaning consecutive negative tests and a pulmonary examination, and is "a matter of days," Baldelli said, from working out toward a return to action.
"He'll probably get on the field tomorrow and get a really good workout in, maybe follow that up Sunday as well," Baldelli said. He could accompany the Twins to Cleveland for a three-game series beginning Monday.
In the meantime, the Twins replaced him with former Red Sox infielder Tzu-Wei Lin, who would be the first Taiwan native ever to play for the Twins.
The other Twins players sidelined by COVID — Kepler and Garlick, plus lefthander Caleb Thielbar and infielder J.T. Riddle — have returned to Minnesota, but are not expected to travel next week, Baldelli said, adding Thielbar tried to keep his arm in shape by "throwing a baseball into a mattress" in his California hotel room. The Twins play a three-game series at Cleveland next week before returning home.
• Miguel Sano's right hamstring strain appears minor, Baldelli said, but likely needs a week to heal, so the Twins decided to place him on the injured list. The first baseman has only five hits in 15 games this year, hitting .111.
• Nelson Cruz, who ran with an obvious limp at Oakland on Wednesday after being hit on the heel by a pitch the day before, was back in the lineup Friday. "He plays through a lot," Baldelli said. "He basically has a training room in his house, so even on off days, he's able to go through a pretty good day's worth of treatment."
• Willians Astudillo, on how he threw 45-mile-per-hour strikes against the Angels on April 16 in his second career relief appearance: "Gas, papa. Gas."