The stringent health and safety protocols implemented by Major League Baseball this year to keep players safe from the coronavirus have forced the Astros to send eight pitchers home from camp in West Palm Beach, Fla., manager Dusty Baker said Friday.
One day after pitchers Luis Garcia, Bryan Abreu and Ronel Blanco were sent away due to health and safety protocols, Baker said early Friday five more pitchers would be joining them: Pedro Báez, Cristian Javier, Enoli Paredes, Hector Velazquez and Francis Martes. It’s unclear whether the players had tested positive for COVID-19 or had come in contact with someone who had tested positive.
The Astros are scheduled to play the Marlins in a seven-inning game on Friday afternoon in Jupiter, Fla., and have a five-inning “B” game scheduled later in the day against the Cardinals in West Palm Beach.
“We can’t comment on specifics other than we are following health and safety protocols,” Astros general manager James Click said.
According to the MLB operations manual, a person who has been identified as having been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID will be subject to a mandatory quarantine of seven days and must test negative on Day 5 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.
Regardless, the eight pitchers won’t be working out with their teammates at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches or appearing in Grapefruit League games for at least the next week. Martes and Paredes each threw an inning in relief in Houston’s win over St. Louis on Thursday night.
“We knew that this was a possibility,” Click said. “It’s inevitable that guys will get exposed, and so we do have a plan in place -- even though they’re not at the facility -- to keep them on track to get their work in and be ready for the season.”
The Astros have 39 pitchers in camp this year, so they won’t have an issue covering innings in games while the pitchers are sidelined.
“We just have to adjust and readjust,” Baker said. “Worrying about it or level of concern is not going to change anything. We’ve just got to find a way to work around it and find a solution. We’re missing quite a few arms now. We’re concerned, but fortunately we had more pitchers than we knew what to do with when we opened camp. What this does is it gives other guys opportunities to shine. You don’t like it, but you have to adjust to it.”
Báez, signed away from the Dodgers to a two-year deal in January, threw in a simulated game Thursday but has yet to appear in a Grapefruit League game this year. Of the eight pitchers sidelined, Báez, Paredes and Javier are locks to make the club, with Garcia, Abreu and Velazquez competing for spots.
Major League players agreed to enhanced health and safety protocols with the goal of playing a full 162-game schedule this season. They quarantined for five days before reporting to camp and then underwent the intake procedure. While at Spring Training, they aren’t permitted to go into bars or clubs or attend indoor gatherings with more than 10 people. Masks are to be worn at all times, except on the field.
“We’ve been reinforcing the protocols and reinforcing wearing masks and washing your hands and social distancing,” Baker said.