Astros' Báez tests positive for COVID-19

March 10th, 2021

Astros general manager James Click said Tuesday that veteran relief pitcher Pedro Báez is in quarantine because he recently tested positive for the coronavirus. No additional information was given about Báez, who is one of eight pitchers the Astros placed in quarantine last week, citing health and safety protocols.

The Astros placed Báez on the injured list Monday, when they announced the signing of free-agent pitcher Jake Odorizzi. Click said the “vast majority” of the eight quarantined pitchers -- Luis Garcia, Bryan Abreu, Ronel Blanco, Cristian Javier, Enoli Paredes, Hector Velazquez, Francis Martes and Báez-- should be back on the field Wednesday or Thursday. Báez, who has yet to pitch in a Grapefruit League game, may be a few days behind the rest.

“This is something all teams anticipated,” Click said. “We knew that there were going to be potential issues like this as a result of the protocols and wanting to keep everybody safe. … Our strength and conditioning and [athletic trainers] have done a tremendous job setting [the quarantined pitchers] up with the ability to continue to stay in shape and continue to throw, continue to work out, even though they are in quarantine.”

According to the MLB operations manual, a person who has been identified as having been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 will be subject to a mandatory quarantine of seven days and must test negative on day five or later, among other requirements, to rejoin facilities. Individuals who test positive will be required to isolate for a minimum of 10 days and must be cleared by physicians.

Odorizzi wants to be like Zack

Odorizzi, signed by the Astros on Tuesday to a two-year contact with an option for 2023, has met his new teammate, Zack Greinke, only once. That came in ’18, when Greinke sat in on Odorizzi’s arbitration hearing in which Click – formerly of the Rays – was sitting across the table.

Odorizzi is eagerly anticipating getting to know Greinke and the rest of his teammates even more in the next few days as he prepares to hit the field with his new club. Odorizzi said he’s always modeled his career after Greinke, the 37-year-old who’s baseball’s active leader with 459 games started. The two were even involved in a trade for each other, with Odorizzi, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar and Jeremy Jeffress going to the Royals in 2010 for Yuniesky Betancourt and Greinke.

Odorizzi said he admired Greinke’s athleticism.

“I always thought after I was drafted, if there’s a guy who I should follow, it was him,” Odorizzi said. “And lo and behold, I get drafted and I’m traded for him. We switched spots and now years down the road he’s still doing it at a very high level, and I’ll get a chance to be on the same team as him. …

“I’m looking forward to getting to know him on a personal level and talking pitching with him, because he’s got a great mind for pitching. … He’s a guy that I mechanically tried to emulate -- repertoire, everything like that. If I can keep doing it as long as he’s doing it, I’d be pretty darn happy with myself.”

Garza relieves McCullers ... twice

This year’s quirky Spring Training rules brought about by the pandemic led to an unusual sequence in the Astros’ 4-4 tie with the Nationals on Tuesday night at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches when starting pitcher was relieved by twice in consecutive innings.

McCullers, making his second start of the spring, was pulled from the game after throwing 44 pitches in 1 2/3 innings, giving up one hit and one walk while striking out three. Garza came into the game and got the final out of the second before McCullers came back out to start the third. He struck out a batter, gave up a homer to Victor Robles and issued a walk before being pulled. And again, Garza followed him.

“I love that in Spring Training, and I wouldn’t mind that during the season, to tell you the truth,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “He needed to pitch and his pitch count was way high that inning. Garza came in and he started the next inning. I think it’s good for baseball in Spring Training. Guys get the work in and they don’t get an extended inning and throw too many pitches in this case.”

McCullers said his goal Tuesday was to reach 50 pitches and get up and down off the mound three times, which is why he went back out for the third. In all 2021 Spring Training games, a pitcher can leave a game and re-enter.

“I don’t like [the rule] at all, actually,” he said. “As a pitcher, you get taken out of a game and it’s kind of over and then you have to go back out there and try to ramp back up. Spring Training is weird like that. The goal is for everyone to get their work in. ... It’s my second start of the spring. My velo was fantastic, my offspeed was right where it needs to be. The cutter needs some work, but I expected that.”

McCullers threw several changeups, a pitch he didn’t throw in his first outing. He was pleased with the pitch, except the one Robles hit over the fence in the third inning. The majority of pitches he threw for balls were cutters.

“I have to get reps to be able to tighten that pitch up,” he said. “It’s going to be a big one for me. The changeup, I’m super happy with. Happy I got the pitch count up and I felt good getting up three times.”

First look at Scrubb

Right-hander , who came out of nowhere as a rookie last year and helped a beleaguered bullpen by posting a 1.90 ERA in 20 games in his Major League debut, got on the mound for the first time this spring in Tuesday’s game against the Nationals and struck out three batters and allowed one hit in one inning.

Scrubb had been slowed by a right leg injury, but reported to camp much lighter while competing for a spot in the club.

“It set me back a little bit, but not too much,” he said. “It felt amazing to be back. My body knew it was game time all day and I just felt the anxiousness. It was good to be back, for sure.”

With the Astros bolstering their bullpen by signing Báez, Ryne Stanek and Steve Cishek this winter and the return of Joe Smith, Scrubb’s spot on the team is not secure despite his strong contributions a year ago. With that in mind he refined his delivery, in addition to losing weight, to be more efficient to the plate.

“This guy was great for us,” Baker said. “He learned on the job, which is very tough to do. He wasn’t throwing strikes early and then the more strikes he threw later in the season, the more opportunities he got in pressure situations. He’s been working on a number of different things. He came into camp in great shape and he’s trying to right his way back onto this team. I was impressed with his control, especially the first time out there.”