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The COVID-racked Cleveland Guardians will be without manager Terry Francona and most of his bench and coaching staff on Friday when they play the struggling Minnesota Twins in the opener of a three-game series in Minneapolis.

The Guardians will send right-hander Aaron Civale (1-2, 9.45 ERA) to the mound. Minnesota will counter with right-hander Sonny Gray (0-1, 3.48).

Civale was supposed to pitch on Wednesday, when the Guardians’ road game against the Chicago White Sox was postponed because of multiple positive coronavirus tests within Cleveland’s organization.

Cleveland bench coach DeMarlo Hale, hitting coach Chris Valaika, first base coach Sandy Alomar, assistant pitching coach Joe Torres, third base coach Mike Sarbaugh and major league hitting analyst Justin Toole all tested positive and did not make the flight to Minneapolis.

Chris Antonetti, Cleveland’s president of baseball operations, announced Thursday that pitching coach Carl Willis will manage the Guardians this weekend. The club was busy on Thursday putting together a coaching staff to support Willis, even potentially dipping into the minor leagues.

As of Thursday, no Cleveland players had tested positive for COVID.

Cleveland heads to the Twin Cities having won three of its past four games, though the lone defeat in that span was a loss in the latest contest, 4-1 to the White Sox on Tuesday. The Guardians have won eight of their past 11 games.

“What I liked it was the same team (Tuesday as it was Monday) that tried to come back,” Francona said Tuesday. “It’s hard to do that. It was through effort. I like that and appreciate that. That will serve us well.”

The Twins have dropped three straight outings, including both games of a pseudo-doubleheader against the Astros on Thursday. In completion of a game suspended on Wednesday due to rain, Houston won 11-3, and then the Astros completed a sweep with a 5-0 victory.

Minnesota was outscored 21-3 in the three-game series against Houston and did not have a starting pitcher go more than four innings. Josh Winder (2-1) took the loss in the nightcap Thursday, allowing four runs, three earned, in 3 1/3 innings.

The skid immediately followed the Twins’ three-game sweep of the Oakland A’s. Minnesota had won seven of nine games heading into the set against the Astros.

The overworked Twins bullpen needs a strong outing from Gray, who went just four scoreless innings in his most recent start, a no-decision in a 1-0 Minnesota win against Oakland on Saturday. He struck out seven and surrendered just two hits and two walks in that game, but he has not lasted past the fifth inning this season.

Gray was encouraged by the outing against the A’s, one of his former teams.

“I had a couple of walks, and they were a couple of bad walks,” Gray said. “They were kind of like, ‘You can’t continue to do that,’ but they kind of ignited me just a little bit to say, ‘All right, get your (stuff) together here, Sonny, clean it up. Get back to attacking.'”

–Field Level Media