Polanco tests positive for COVID-19

Shortstop Tucker takes part in drills with Bucs' outfielders

July 17th, 2020

PITTSBURGH -- Pirates right fielder tested positive for COVID-19, manager Derek Shelton announced on Friday afternoon.

Shelton said it is too soon to say whether Polanco, who hasn’t worked out at PNC Park the last four days, will be unavailable for Opening Day. Players who test positive must self-quarantine, be symptom-free for 72 hours, test negative twice at least 24 hours apart and be cleared by doctors before they can return to PNC Park.

Polanco gave the team permission to share his diagnosis. Shelton said that he and general manager Ben Cherington have not yet decided whether to place him on the COVID-19 injured list. According to MLB’s 2020 Operations Manual, there is no minimum or maximum length of placement on the COVID-19 related IL, so Polanco could return whenever he is healthy, even if he’s placed on the injured list.

“He's doing well. I talked to him earlier when we talked to him about consent, and he's upbeat,” Shelton said. “Unbelievable teammate and was very, very happy to talk about it with Ben and I, about being able to discuss it as a group. And so he's doing fine.”

Assuming Polanco will miss at least the start of the season, Pittsburgh must fill significant holes in right field and in the everyday lineup. The Bucs were planning to have Polanco handle right field while occasionally serving as the designated hitter, and likely have him bat after cleanup hitter Josh Bell. Before this, Polanco had been one of the standouts in Pittsburgh’s Summer Camp. He reported to PNC Park with a healthy left shoulder, throwing harder from right field than he did at any point last year, energetically leading players through drills and hitting the ball hard to all fields.

To make matters worse, Shelton’s announcement came the same day news surfaced that the Pirates put closer Keone Kela on the injured list.

"It sucks that we lose our closer and a big bat in the lineup and our starting right fielder, but it is what it is,” Opening Day starter Joe Musgrove said. “Those guys are doing everything they can to get back here as soon as they can. I think we've got enough guys to hold down the fort until they get back."

Without Polanco, the Pirates could turn to fourth outfielder in right. Shelton said Heredia “would definitely get more” playing time there, although that was not the plan when Pittsburgh signed him. Heredia has been effective against left-handed pitchers, but he’s hit just .212 with a .596 OPS against right-handers throughout his career.

The Bucs could also use non-roster outfielder in right or cycle through utility players , , and . Shelton said that they might call up an outfielder from their alternate training site in Altoona, Pa., to provide depth for Saturday’s exhibition game against Cleveland at PNC Park. is the only outfielder in the Altoona camp who has Major League experience.

On Friday afternoon, another potential part of the solution emerged as shortstop took part in defensive drills with Pittsburgh’s outfielders. Tucker has never played the outfield professionally -- he’s only spent six games anywhere other than shortstop, and those came at second base -- but he also worked on shagging fly balls in right field during batting practice at PNC Park.

“We've had different guys we bump into the outfield for work, but we really don't want to make that assumption until we get to the day before [the season opener against] St. Louis and we know what our roster is going to look like,” Shelton said.

With players getting tested every other day, Shelton said this was an instance of Major League Baseball’s protocol working. He and Musgrove also praised Polanco’s handling of the situation.

“I know when he initially pulled himself out of the workout, he wasn’t feeling sick at all. He didn’t feel many symptoms. He said his throat was a little bit scratchy, but on any other day, he would normally just come to the park and he would’ve been fine,” Musgrove said. “But he was really cautious about it and really smart and decided to pull himself out of the workout, and he ended up saving a good amount of people from having to miss time. We shot him a text this morning, just told him, ‘It sucks that you’re out, man, but we really appreciate you being honest and stepping forward and saying something, not just coming in and trying to stick it out.’

“Because we all know, the type of guy that he is, he would be here in a heartbeat through any kind of illness or sickness. But he handled that really well, and he definitely saved a lot of our guys from missing time.”