Angels’ Matt Thaiss ready for season after mentally draining battle with coronavirus

Angels' Matt Thaiss celebrates with teammates in the dugout.
Angels infielder Matt Thaiss, shown during spring training in March, dealt with a coronavirus infection for about a month before he was finally cleared to join the team Sunday.
(Norm Hall / Getty Images)

Weeks before MLB’s health and safety protocols were implemented and players were subjected to near-daily coronavirus testing, Angels infielder Matt Thaiss became intimately familiar with nasal swabs and saliva tests.

Thaiss revealed Thursday in his first videoconference with reporters since arriving at Angels camp earlier this week he was infected with COVID-19 for about a month. By the time he was cleared to join the team Sunday, he had missed nine workouts. Yet he had already had his saliva tested for traces of the coronavirus nearly a dozen times.

Thaiss found out June 17 that he had tested positive. He never developed symptoms but the virus lingered in his system for almost a month. He described the repetitive process of getting tested only to learn 24 hours later that he was still infected as “mentally defeating.”

“I was asymptomatic the whole time, which was — I was lucky,” Thaiss said. “Very thankful that I was healthy. But at the same time, it’s also a little frustrating when you know you feel perfectly fine but for me, personally, it took me 20-something days of testing to test negative.”


Angels pitching coach Mickey Callaway is impressed by how Shohei Ohtani approaches his pitching and hitting duties through “impeccable routines.”

MLB protocols do not allow players or staff to be reinstated until they test negative for the virus twice during a span no shorter than 24 hours.

Thaiss first learned June 14 that a friend with whom he’d been working out had tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19. He immediately went into isolation in his Arizona apartment and remained there for roughly four weeks. There wasn’t much for him to do to keep busy besides watch Bundesliga soccer — he’s a fan of Bayern Munich now — and golf on television. His baseball activity was limited to miming swings in his mirror.

Around the same time, teammate Patrick Sandoval dealt with a more severe case. He tested positive for the virus June 22 and experienced painful body aches, chills and a fever. He was back with the Angels by July 9.

Thaiss, meanwhile, watched helplessly from hundreds of miles away as his teammates reported to camp and began intrasquad games.

“I was thankful I didn’t have any symptoms but I also thought that it was gonna be 14 days and boom, I’m ready July 1 to report to camp and hopefully have some sort of antibodies and be ready to go,” he said. “The days just kept dragging on, where it was July 7, July 8, where I was still in isolation. So that was tough.”

The Angels will set their 30-man roster for the start of a pandemic-shortened season in a week, and a decision about Jo Adell hasn’t been made.

Despite the time missed, Thaiss believes he will be ready to play when the season begins next week. He spent the months before becoming infected working out in Arizona, getting his batting and fielding reps where he could and training at a gym during baseball’s shutdown. Now he’s back to his normal routine, working with hitting coaches Jeremy Reed, John Mallee and Paul Sorrento and taking advantage of intrasquad games. He had eight at-bats in Tuesday’s game, his first since rejoining the team, and participated in a shortened simulated game Wednesday.

One downside? The dry swings didn’t help “prepare me for the blisters I was going to get when I came back,” Thaiss joked. “[But] I’m feeling good. Feeling ready and excited [to] get going.”

No bubble-bursting

The MLB season won’t be played in an NBA-style bubble, but the Angels are more or less acting as though it will be. In the two weeks since the team reconvened for training camp, manager Joe Maddon said he has not heard any players or staff members gripe about the precautions taken to prevent an outbreak of the coronavirus.

He hasn’t heard of anyone breaking protocols.

“Our guys are pretty serious about it,” Maddon said. “I’ve been impressed. … I am seeing the best version, I think, of each guy here. Talking about having to be the best teammate you’ve ever been before in your life, I think these guys are adhering to it.

“I think everybody understands how important it is that we create our own bubble and exist within it. It’s not that tough. … Deny yourself some things you normally do, whether it’s going out to a bar, restaurant, whatever.

“A couple more months of doing that, it’s not gonna hurt anybody. So it’s a lot of self control. It’s a lot of self discipline that we have to practice right now.”

Angels baseball coming soon to TV

Fox Sports West announced it will carry broadcasts for 57 of 60 Angels games this season, even ones the crew cannot attend on the road. Mark Gubicza and Victor Rojas will call those games from a trailer parked outside Angel Stadium, where they will monitor TV feeds transmitted to them from other stadiums.

The nightly productions will also feature the usual rotating cast of Patrick O’Neal, Kent French, José Mota, Tim Salmon and Garret Anderson.

Three Angels exhibition games will be broadcast on on the network beginning Monday when the Angels travel to Petco Park to face the San Diego Padres.

Short hops

The Angels are targeting Sundays for two-way player Shohei Ohtani to pitch, same as they did during his debut season in 2018. Following the same script, the Angels intend to give Ohtani a break from full-time hitting the day before and after he pitches. The Angels are scheduled to have three Mondays off during the season so they can minimize when Ohtani is out of the lineup. . . . Maddon said there is a chance starter Julio Teheran, who has not reported to camp, can rejoin the club “in the near future.” Teheran told ESPN last week he was waiting to receive negative results from a coronavirus test after experiencing symptoms.