SEATTLE -- General manager Jerry Dipoto said Wednesday that “more than one” Mariners player has tested positive for COVID-19 during Major League Baseball’s shutdown, and that could impact who is available for the initial workouts when the team resumes Spring Training next week.
Though he avoided any specifics, Dipoto acknowledged that the coronavirus has touched the club already and will be carefully monitored as players report to Seattle to begin working out in preparation for the start of the 60-game season.
“A lot of that is obviously going to be protected information, but we’ve had more than one player in our organization test positive,” Dipoto said. “We’re not yet sure, with testing coming this weekend, how much of that will affect our 40-man roster. But with the cases popping up, especially in some of the hot spots around the country, we have had a few players test positive.
“Right now they’re asymptomatic. They feel great. But we are aware that they’re positive, and obviously they’ll not be in the environment when we open up until we’ve determined whether, A) they’re part of the roster group and B) they’re healthy enough to be a part of that.”
Speaking on a Zoom call with reporters on Wednesday, Dipoto discussed a wide range of topics after learning Tuesday night that MLB would re-open camps on July 1 and begin preparing for Opening Day games on July 23-24.
Among the other news:
Adams ready, but Haniger will go slow
Reliever Austin Adams appears fully recovered from his October left knee surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and he has advanced to throwing live bullpen sessions and facing hitters in Florida. Dipoto said Adams was cleared by the Rays team doctor in Tampa and should be as ready as any of the team’s pitchers when camp resumes.
Outfielder Mitch Haniger’s status is less clear as he continues working his way back from offseason surgeries to repair a torn adductor muscle in his groin and a herniated disk in his back.
“Those aren’t small issues, so that’s still a bit of a moving target,” Dipoto said. “Like we said from the start, we don’t have an estimated time of arrival for Mitch. That’s going to be easier to determine once we lay eyes on him … but we’re going to be slow and careful with how we handle Mitch.”
Top prospects will practice, at least
While Dipoto didn’t want to name names until he called players to issue official invitations back to camp later Wednesday, Mariners CEO John Stanton said on 710 ESPN Seattle earlier in the day that many of the club’s elite prospects -- including Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodriguez, Cal Raleigh, Logan Gilbert, George Kirby and perhaps even this year's first-round Draft pick, Emerson Hancock -- would be among those kept on the “taxi squad” who will work out in Tacoma and be available as needed after the initial 60 players in camp are cut down to a 30-man Opening Day roster.
“We will commit to a handful of players and making sure that we recover as much of their developmental season as we can,” Dipoto said.
Dipoto indicated it would be unlikely for those younger players to get promoted to the big league club with such an abbreviated schedule, but they’d get the benefit of regular workouts and some “in-house games” in Tacoma in a year when it appears unlikely there’ll be any Minor League season.
Expect a six-man rotation to start the year
With just three weeks to get ready for regular-season games, preparing starting pitchers figures as the biggest challenge, and Dipoto indicated the Mariners will alleviate some of the burden by using a six-man rotation.
That means rookie Justin Dunn is far more likely to open the year in the rotation, given he appeared to be sixth in line behind Marco Gonzales, Yusei Kikuchi, Kendall Graveman, Justus Sheffield and Taijuan Walker before camp was halted in March.
Dipoto said all the starters have been throwing regularly and are about where they’d be after an initial two-inning outing in a typical Spring Training.
“Over the next three weeks, the goal is to build them up to three, four, five innings,” he said. “Understanding that we will very likely adapt to the situation and we are going to run a six-man rotation, where our starters are only throwing once a week.
“In the early going, we're also going to allow for a piggyback type setup, where starters who aren't quite as built up as others have a second starter throwing on that day with them. That's how we're likely to use the extra roster spots early, just to protect the health and well-being of our pitchers after such a long layoff.”