Polanco back from COVID-19 IL, at DH

July 28th, 2020

PITTSBURGH -- As the Pirates returned to PNC Park on Monday, returned to their lineup.

The Pirates activated Polanco before their home opener against the Brewers on Monday night and sent outfielder Jason Martin to their alternate training site camp in Altoona, Pa. Polanco started the season on the injured list after testing positive for COVID-19 late in Summer Camp. He went 0-for-3 with a walk in the Pirates' 6-5 loss to the Brewers.

Manager Derek Shelton said early Monday afternoon that he was scheduled to meet with Polanco about whether he was ready to return to the field. Polanco resumed working out over the weekend after clearing the COVID-19 protocol, which involves testing negative twice at least 24 hours apart.

The team reported that Polanco felt fine throughout his absence, and everyone from GM Ben Cherington to Opening Day starter Joe Musgrove praised the 28-year-old outfielder for not putting others at risk when he first felt he might have contracted COVID-19. Polanco was able to work out at home while in quarantine, with the Pirates' athletic training staff recording his Sunday workout at PNC Park so coaches could watch upon returning from St. Louis.

Shelton wasted no time slotting Polanco’s left-handed bat back into the lineup. Polanco was Pittsburgh’s starting designated hitter on Monday, batting seventh. Shelton previously said he planned to “ease” Polanco back into the lineup as the DH instead of immediately having him play right field, considering the time he missed while in isolation.

With his lineup back at full strength, Shelton again shuffled his batting order for the series opener against Milwaukee. Kevin Newman returned to the lineup but not the leadoff spot, as the shortstop will bat second behind second baseman Adam Frazier. First baseman Josh Bell remained in the No. 3 spot, with third baseman Colin Moran hitting cleanup. José Osuna returned to right field, batting sixth, after homering in Sunday’s series finale. Jacob Stallings lined up behind the plate, with No. 9 hitter Jarrod Dyson in center field.

Despite spending most of Summer Camp at the Pirates’ alternate training site, Martin cracked the Opening Day roster to provide outfield depth. He did not play in Pittsburgh’s opening series against St. Louis.

COVID-19 concerns
In light of two games being postponed on Monday as MLB conducts additional COVID-19 testing, Shelton and veteran left-hander Derek Holland chose to focus on the Pirates’ adherence to the league’s health and safety guidelines rather than worry about what’s happening in Miami and Philadelphia.

“I think what it boils down to is that we have to follow the protocols and we have to continue to follow the protocols and we have to continue to educate ourselves,” Shelton said. “I think we all knew at some point there was going to be some sort of positive testing with the group. I think we continue to evaluate and find information out.

“Most importantly, just continue to make sure that we’re abiding by everything they’ve put in place. There’s so many different factors of when we travel and how things go, and we have to be aware and we have to continue to learn what’s going on.”

Holland said the Pirates stayed in a “bubble” during their season-opening trip to St. Louis, never venturing beyond Busch Stadium and the team hotel just across the street. Like Shelton, Holland said he wouldn’t think about the potential of a postponed or canceled game in the event that Pittsburgh or its opponent experiences multiple confirmed cases of COVID-19.

“It could happen to any team. But I think the way that we're going about our business, we're taking care of ourselves, we’ve got to focus on our own doings,” Holland said. “If we're doing what we're supposed to be doing, I don't think we have to worry. I’m not going to worry about the other teams. I’m going to worry about Pittsburgh.”

A first to remember
Shelton said he spent most of the Pirates’ bus rides to and from the airport on Sunday night responding to text messages he received following his first win as a Major League manager. When he woke up on Monday morning, he had even more to answer.

“I heard from a lot of people. I heard from former players, current players, a lot of current managers. A guy that lives here in Pittsburgh that was a former manager sent me a couple nice texts,” Shelton said, referring to Jim Leyland. “Family members. Trying to think of the coolest one I got. I don't know if any of them were, just normal people. I have a friend that works for Pearl Jam; he sent me a text, so that was kind of cool. … Anytime you get anything Pearl Jam-related, it's cool. So I was stoked about that."