MINNEAPOLIS — The struggling Minnesota Twins have arrived in Toronto even more shorthanded, without regular right fielder Max Kepler and relief pitchers Emilio Pagán, Caleb Thielbar and Trevor Megill.
The four players will miss the three-game series against the Blue Jays after the club placed them on the restricted list, to comply with the Canadian government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. All are currently unvaccinated.
The Twins were waiting to announce replacements until closer to game time on Friday night. Canada requires anyone traveling to the country to have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, the second one at least 14 days before entry.
Pagán discussed his decision not to get a shot with reporters before the Twins departed for Toronto.
“I know that there are going to be people that are very angry for this opinion and the stance, but that’s fine,” Pagán said. “I feel like I had a choice to make, and they have also a choice if they’re going to be mad at me or not."
Pagán was the losing pitcher on Thursday afternoon in Detroit after allowing a two-run homer to Daz Cameron in the eighth inning of a 3-2 defeat. He's one of the late-inning relievers for the AL Central-leading Twins, who have dumped seven of their last 10 games, all to division bottom-dwellers Detroit and Kansas City.
“I’ve gone to every guy in this locker room and explained where I was, and how I came up with my decision, and apologized because I do know it’s hurting the team,” the 31-year-old Pagán said. “I do not believe this is a baseball decision. This is the Canadian government. It’s not even an MLB rule.”
Kepler, a native of Germany in his seventh full season in the majors, currently has career bests in batting average (.253) and on-base percentage (.357) and is tied for second on the team with six homers.
Thielbar, the most-used left-hander in the bullpen, has a 5.59 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings. Megill, a righty in his first season with the Twins, has a 1.04 ERA with 12 strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings.
The Twins entered June with a particularly depleted roster, mostly due to an injury list that includes starting pitcher Sonny Gray and rookie shortstop Royce Lewis. A handful of players are currently out with COVID-19, including shortstop Carlos Correa and starting pitcher Joe Ryan.
Pagán is 1-2 with seven saves and a 3.00 ERA in 18 games this season. He arrived in the trade with San Diego that sent relief pitcher Taylor Rogers to the Padres. Starting pitcher Chris Paddack, who also came to Minnesota in the deal, is done for the year after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery.
Players not allowed to travel into Canada to face the Blue Jays in Toronto because of their vaccination status will not be paid for those missed games. An agreement between owners and the MLB Players Association covering unvaccinated players and travel to Canada expires at the end of the 2022 season.
For all the teams running into this issue for road games in Toronto, a bigger problem waits in October if the Blue Jays make the playoffs. If their opponent were to be the Twins, Pagán said he wouldn't rule out getting vaccinated then.
“Yeah, of course, I've thought about it. I considered doing something to be able to go this time around," he said. "It's not like I'm anti-medicine. I just felt like I made a decision that was best for me at this time. Things can change. Studies change. I don't want to get into the science of it. I'm not a scientist. I'm not 100% against it, but I'm going to make a decision that I'm comfortable with, and right now when I consider it, I get anxious.”
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