Toussaint rejoins Braves after coronavirus ‘flipped my world'

Braves' Touki Toussaint delivers a pitch on Feb. 16, 2020. Curtis Compton / AJC

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Braves pitcher Touki Toussaint was perplexed when informed he’d tested positive for COVID-19. Toussaint, who was asymptomatic, tested positive before workouts began July 3.

Two weeks later, he rejoined the team Friday following two negative tests.

“I was sitting at home, not really doing anything,” Toussaint said, recalling his time quarantining. “I’d go outside for a run. It was weird because you’re sick but not really sick. People are staying away from you, like ‘oh you have the virus.’ When the news broke, it felt kind of out-of-world. People were like, ‘Are you OK?’ I’m perfectly fine, but it’s serious so I had to take serious measures.”

Several times, Toussaint reiterated he was surprised when learning he was among four Braves who had the coronavirus. It “flipped my world,” he said. “They told me I tested positive. I said, ‘No way. No way I tested positive.‘ ”

So Toussaint, who was competing for a roster spot, was instead stuck at home while the Braves readied at Truist Park. He was tested daily at first, then every other day, in search of two negatives. He did receive some false negative results during the testing flurry, he said.

Sidelined but feeling well, Toussaint had asked if he and reliever Will Smith, who was also positive and asymptomatic, could throw together. The idea was quickly shut down, and Toussaint was relegated to throwing at a chain link fence alone.

When Toussaint returned to Braves camp Friday, the rest of the team was off so he played catch with bullpen catcher Jimmy Leo. Despite his absence, Toussaint believes he isn’t far behind his colleagues.

“I don’t think it set me back at all,” he said. “I’m ready to go. I feel like I kept myself in shape to be able to compete. I know my timing might be a little off, but that’s just reps. I’ll get those in and hopefully be ready in six days (for opening day).”

A former first-round pick, Toussaint, 24, has appeared in 31 games across two major-league seasons. He logged only seven outings last season, allowing 13 earned runs and walking 21 hitters over 29 innings.

Toussaint did impress in three spring training games before the season’s suspension. He struck out eight and walked three in 8-2/3 innings. Manager Brian Snitker has praised Toussaint for his recent improvement and felt he was a legitimate candidate to make the opening-day roster.

Now, it’s not so clear. While Toussaint is confident he isn’t lagging behind, Snitker will see how he looks when he takes the mound.

“Touki is going to be like the rest of the guys when they came in,” Snitker said Saturday. “Until the guys put their eyes on him, and he gets on the mound – all those guys came in, and when they got on the real mound and threw, there was a big difference. I know he’s been up and down and kept himself in great shape, but he hasn’t been out here yet. We’ll see where he’s at. We’ll get him in a game sooner than later I’m sure.”

Whenever Toussaint is ready, he’ll strengthen the Braves’ pitching depth. Toussaint can be a starter or reliever, but most importantly, he can cover a bulk of innings. The Braves’ early piggybacking strategy, and the general uncertainty around the 60-game season, require as many stretched-out pitchers as possible.

Other notes from Saturday:

- Third baseman Johan Camargo suffered a hamstring cramp in Saturday night’s scrimmage. The Braves will evaluate him tomorrow, but it didn’t sound serious.

“It was a cramp more than anything,” Snitker said. “He’ll be day to day. We’ll see what it is tomorrow.”

- The Braves added right-hander Josh Tomlin and first baseman Yonder Alonso to their major-league roster Saturday. Tomlin can cover innings as a starter or reliever and became an important part of the 2019 Braves.

Alonso could be a bench bat if called upon. The 33-year-old hit .199/.296/.346 with 10 homers and 37 RBIs with the Cubs and Rockies last season. The journeyman is further insurance at first base as well, should Freddie Freeman not be ready in time for the season’s beginning.

- Freeman hopes to get 30 at-bats over the next five days. That process began Saturday, when he hit in every inning of the Braves’ intrasquad scrimmage and logged some time in the field.

Freeman had missed the past two weeks after testing positive for COVID-19. He exhibited several serious symptoms, including body aches, chills, headaches and loss of taste and smell. Freeman explained his battle with COVID-19 on Saturday.

- In his final outing before opening day, Mike Soroka pitched five innings, registering several extra outs in his final inning to get in extra work. Soroka threw 71 pitches.

“He was really good,” Snitker said. “You look at that outing right there and think he’s ready to go.”

- Toussaint pitched in the sixth inning of Saturday’s scrimmage, striking out William Contreras, inducing a flyout from Ender Inciarte, walking Freeman and striking out Dansby Swanson. He threw 18 pitches.

Toussaint said Saturday he didn’t feel the time away set him back. If that proves true, Toussaint will still have a chance to make the initial 30-man roster.

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