Notes: 'Some' positive tests at Pirates camp

'Pep in my step' for Williams; Bell impressed by Polanco

July 4th, 2020

PITTSBURGH -- Pirates manager Derek Shelton revealed Saturday that “organizationally” the Pirates have had “some” people test positive for COVID-19, but he added that he could not provide more specific information.

It is unclear how many positive tests the Pirates have had within their organization and how those tests might be split among players and staff. Teams cannot announce if a player tests positive without the player’s permission to do so.

Shelton said all 40 players who were listed on the Pirates’ PNC Park Summer Camp roster are in Pittsburgh. However, Shelton added, there are “some guys that have pending stuff still going on,” so not all 40 of those players have been active during the club’s first two official workouts. The Pirates closed their workouts to the media and other outside entities following the Allegheny County order prohibiting activities or events of more than 25 people, so it’s also unclear which players took the field Friday and Saturday.

The county order could create one more complication in Pirates camp. Shelton said the Pirates aren’t quite ready for intrasquad games, which they expect to play nearly every night during Summer Camp, because their medical team is still assessing position players’ physical readiness for that kind of activity. But the Bucs couldn’t play games anyway given the county’s week-long restriction on the size of gatherings.

“As soon as we could play a simulated game, I would like to do that,” Shelton said. “But until we get different guidelines handed down to us, then we'll abide by what the county's put in place.”

Allegheny County indicated Thursday that the order would only be in place for a week. But considering how little time there is to get ready for this season in the first place, what kind of effect would an extension of that ruling have on the Pirates’ preparation?

“I think that's one of the bridges we'll cross when we get to it. The most important thing for us is going to be live [at-bats], and we can facilitate that,” Shelton said. “[Bench coach Don Kelly has] done a really good job of shuffling hitters in to make sure that everybody's getting their at-bats."

Camp notes
Like Joe Musgrove on Friday, right-hander pitched a five-inning simulated game on Saturday and said it felt “really good” to be back on the mound at PNC Park.

“I had more pep in my step today. My fastball was coming out a little hotter,” Williams said. “It’s like that first live [BP] in Spring Training, except amplified more because we’re really gearing up for a season and we spent so much time away from each other, and now we’re at our home park doing it.”

While the team has been apart, Williams said he was fortunate enough to work with Pirates pitching coach Oscar Marin nearly every day for the last three months as both live in the Phoenix area. Williams said that allowed him to continue the work they began in Spring Training, sharpening his offspeed pitches -- including a curveball he intends to use more often this year -- and making sure he repeats his delivery.

“I had 12 weeks of one-on-one time with Oscar in my bullpens, in my lives to really dial in the ability to repeat my delivery more and more and kind of fine-tune it there,” Williams said. “I feel like I made strides and I made the most of my 12 weeks at home, like I believe a lot of guys did.”

came away from Saturday’s workout raving about , saying the right fielder had “the most impressive workday that I’ve seen Polanco have since last year.”

Polanco launched batting-practice homers to all fields, splashed a few in the Allegheny River and then -- perhaps most importantly, given the lingering uncertainty about his surgically repaired shoulder -- fired throws from right field to third base.

“That was the best I’ve seen his arm since surgery,” Bell said. “As long as he can backspin the ball, it’s going to be right on target. So I’m excited for the player. I’m excited to watch him this year. I’m excited to hit in front of or behind him. There’s going to be a lot of runs to be scored.”

• The Pirates only have three catchers on their camp roster, and they have a lot of pitchers who need to get their work in. So how will they go about that process without wearing down Jacob Stallings, Luke Maile and John Ryan Murphy? They’re leaning heavily on coaching assistant Heberto Andrade and bullpen catcher Jordan Comadena.

“Jordan Comadena and Herbie are dominating it. That’s a big part of it,” Shelton said. “When we came into it, we told Jordan and Herbie it was going to be a different situation. They were going to need to strap it on. It’s a credit to both of those guys that they have.”

Around the horn
• Bell was in his Pittsburgh apartment for most of the time that the season was suspended, which made working out a challenge. He resorted to home workouts, climbing 10 flights of stairs while wearing a weight jacket or ankle weights and doing kettlebell swings. He played catch with his girlfriend to keep his revamped throwing mechanics on point.

Even with the designated hitter in play in the National League, Bell still hopes to line up at first base.

“I have gotten some feedback from teammates, I've gotten some feedback from coaches saying, ‘You're right on the path of where you want to be.' So as of right now, I view myself as a first baseman every day,” Bell said. “I'm going to try and keep it like that. I'm going to do my best to work my tail off over there and make sure Shelton has confidence to put me in the lineup there every day. But it's really up to him.”

• Shelton said he believes there will be more aggressive baserunning and more stolen-base attempts during a shortened season. The manager also suggested that the club’s research indicates there could be more sacrifice bunting, even with pitchers no longer batting in the NL.

“I think you're going to see it be a little more prevalent, because I think runs are going to be at a premium,” Shelton said. “Certain teams are going to play for runs."

• With a 60-game season more likely to resemble a sprint than a 162-game marathon, Shelton also said he expects fewer scheduled days off for everyday position players.

“I think you are going to see less of that,” Shelton said. “I think you’re going to see more matchup situations right from the get-go, where you’re playing the guys that you feel are going to attack that starting pitcher that day.”