Boston's plan with Vázquez, Plawecki out with COVID-19
BOSTON -- The Red Sox will be without their veteran catching tandem of Christian Vázquez and Kevin Plawecki for at least a few days, thrusting Connor Wong and Ronaldo Hernández into the spotlight.
Vázquez, Boston’s primary catcher for the past six seasons, tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday, just one day after Plawecki tested positive. Utility infielder Jonathan Araúz was a second Sox player who tested positive Tuesday.
All three players are vaccinated.
Per updated rules this season, a player can be reinstated from the COVID-19 related injured list after producing two negative tests and no fever. This applies to vaccinated and unvaccinated players, though typically someone who is vaccinated will take less time to test negative.
The 25-year-old Wong came to the Red Sox along with Alex Verdugo and Jeter Downs in the trade that sent Mookie Betts to the Dodgers in February 2020. He got into six games for Boston last season, holding his own with the bat (4-for-13) in his limited exposure to Major League pitching.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Wong, a switch-hitter, will start Tuesday and Wednesday against the Blue Jays.
If Vázquez or Plawecki don’t return by Thursday, Hernández, Boston’s No. 24 prospect as rated by MLB Pipeline, would likely make his MLB debut given that it is a day game following a night game.
The timing for Wong’s start Tuesday was ideal because Nathan Eovaldi, the staff ace, was on the bump for the Red Sox.
Wong and Eovaldi are workout partners in Texas in the offseason. In fact, Eovaldi had three starts with Wong last season and had a 2.66 ERA in 20 1/3 innings over those outings. Wong doesn’t have regular-season experience with Nick Pivetta, who will take the ball Wednesday night.
“He’s a good defender. Something about him, he’s very calm. He doesn’t panic out there. His swing plays. He has some pop,” Cora said of Wong. “Last year was a tough one because he was on the taxi squad, got hurt, didn’t get too many at-bats. But he’s a guy that we trust, a guy that the organization recognized a few years ago as part of Mookie’s trade. Last year, he did an amazing job in the handful of games he played for us. He’s a guy we trust.”
Hernández, acquired from the Rays on Feb. 17, 2021, will try to earn some trust if he gets a shot. However, the right-handed hitter doesn’t have the same familiarity with Boston’s pitching staff as Wong, having appeared in just three games as a reserve in Spring Training.
A right-handed hitter from Colombia, Hernández ripped 16 homers in the Minor Leagues last season for Double-A Portland. He is off to a slow start offensively (4-for-28) for Triple-A Worcester this season.
Aside from the Red Sox having their catching depth temporarily depleted, there is also the natural concern that there could be more positive tests in the coming days.
But perhaps no manager is better equipped to deal with a situation like this than Cora, given the COVID-19 outbreak the Red Sox dealt with in the pennant race last season when 12 players tested positive from Aug. 27-Sept. 12.
Those players included cornerstones like Xander Bogaerts, Kiké Hernández and Chris Sale.
“This is the world we live in, and we'll adjust accordingly,” said Cora. “We did it last year. At one point in Tampa, we were playing Jack Lopez at second, Jonathan Araúz at short, and none of you guys thought we were going to split against Tampa Bay, and we did. We’ll play it out and see what happens. We feel confident that these two guys can call the game. They’re good offensively, and we should be OK.”
Next week, the Red Sox will have another situation to deal with when they play in Toronto from April 25-28. Unvaccinated players aren’t allowed to travel into Canada.
Righty Tanner Houck, Boston’s No. 3 starter, has already stated publicly that he’s not vaccinated and will have to miss his scheduled start in the second game of that series.
Cora said the Sox have other unvaccinated players who will miss that series, but none of those names are public yet.
“I think last year was tougher,” said Cora. “Last year, that was crazy. Leaving guys in Toronto and Chicago and Tampa [with COVID] and then trades, and we had no pitching, and Xander coming out of the game in the second inning and [Josh Taylor] in the third, I remember all those events.
“So that was really tough, because it was like in the middle of the game. Here, you know what you run into, you know where you're at roster-wise and you go from there. We know who's going to go to Toronto, so we’re already planning accordingly.”