PITTSBURGH -- A day after acknowledging that the Pirates had “some” positive test results, manager Derek Shelton announced that relief prospect Blake Cederlind and non-roster outfielder Socrates Brito tested positive for COVID-19.
Both players gave the club permission to divulge that information. Shelton said he couldn’t reveal anything more, including whether they are symptomatic. He added that the Pirates still have “results that are pending,” indicating that the initial intake screening process is not yet complete.
Shelton said he appreciated Cederlind and Brito providing consent to share the news of their positive tests.
“Very much respect the other people that we have that don't feel that it's [necessary] to talk about, but I think it is [important] to continue, as we move forward, for people to realize that it is real in the game,” Shelton said.
Following MLB’s health and safety protocol, the Pirates will perform contact tracing to determine who their positive-testing players were around. Players must self-quarantine, be symptom-free for 72 hours and test negative twice at least 24 hours apart before they can return to PNC Park.
Shelton said it’s too early to say how far this will set back both players as they prepare for the season, as it’s unclear how long they will be sidelined. Neither player was likely to make the Pirates’ Opening Day roster, but they are important to Pittsburgh’s depth.
Cederlind turned heads in Spring Training with his triple-digit fastball and figures to be a key part of the Bucs’ bullpen in the future, potentially even later this year. Brito signed a Minor League deal with the Pirates and came to Spring Training as a non-roster invitee, but he is at best fifth on their outfield depth chart behind starters Bryan Reynolds, Jarrod Dyson and Gregory Polanco along with fourth outfielder Guillermo Heredia.
Catcher Jacob Stallings was complimentary of the Pirates’ compliance with the league’s health guidelines and their testing process. Stallings said his first COVID-19 test was last Monday, and he received his results early Wednesday morning. The club provided players and coaches with face coverings, gloves and individual water bottles, moved the training tables to a separate room and set up hand sanitizer stations “all over” the ballpark, Stallings said.
“From that standpoint, I’m really pleased with how things are going here. And I think everyone is taking it seriously,” Stallings added. “I think all of our guys are taking it just as seriously as the staff, so that’s been encouraging, too.”
Kuhl ‘filthy’ in Summer Camp
It’s still not clear what role right-hander Chad Kuhl will play this year, but the Pirates believe he’s in a good place as he returns from Tommy John surgery.
Stallings faced Kuhl in live batting practice and said the righty’s stuff was “filthy,” an encouraging sign considering it’s been a little more than two years since Kuhl last scaled a Major League mound. Stallings described Kuhl as “tentative” while easing his way back into game action during Spring Training.
“Now, he’s just much more comfortable with where his arm is and with where his stuff is and how his body’s feeling,” Stallings said. “He made me look so bad my first at-bat the other day. … He threw me a first-pitch fastball my second at-bat, and I just swung because I didn’t want to face his slider or his curveball. That’s how nasty he was the other day.”
Kuhl was being stretched out to start in Spring Training and could be a candidate for the fifth spot in the Pirates’ rotation. He might not have made the Opening Day rotation in March, in part because Pittsburgh wanted to monitor his innings. But with a 60-game schedule, the Pirates are facing a completely different problem: Can they get him enough work so that he’s ready for a starters’ full workload in 2021?
“Before, we had to worry about too much,” Shelton said. “Now, we’re going to have to make sure we functionally get him enough innings and put him in the right spot.”
Around the horn
• Veteran left-hander Derek Holland said he has “not been told I’m on this team, so I have to continue to have that mindset that I had going into Spring Training of, ‘I’ve got to make this team.’”
Despite that mentality, Holland -- who has been preparing as if he’ll be a starter, not a reliever -- seems to be all but officially guaranteed a spot in the club’s Opening Day rotation along with Joe Musgrove, Trevor Williams and Mitch Keller.
“I think he’s a really good option for our rotation,” Shelton said. “He has a ton of functionality. He’s had a lot of success as a starter. He’s pitched in relief in his career. Right now, we’re stretching him out to start. He had a really good start to the first Spring Training and really did a good job. … Very happy with where he’s at.”
• Holland, who has 11 years of Major League experience, admitted it will be difficult for him to break some habits that are now discouraged by the health and safety guidelines. Pitchers must bring their own rosin bags to the mound, for instance, and they can carry a wet rag in their back pocket rather than licking their fingers.
“I’m sure I’m going to get yelled at. I can guarantee that,” Holland said. “I know for a fact I’m going to touch my face or whatever the case may be. … I’m not going to lie: I really don’t want to have a wet rag in my back pocket, because -- this is weird -- but I’m probably going to get a butt rash, if you think about it. … I don’t know. It’s going to be interesting.”
• Starting Tuesday, the Pirates will push back their Summer Camp workouts to begin in the afternoon and end at night. They have been working out in the morning and early afternoon, but they’re making the switch for two reasons: to get players out of the summertime heat and to begin preparing for regular-season game times.