ST. PETERSBURG -- Red Sox manager Alex Cora’s pregame Zoom press conference call started in an all too familiar way on Tuesday.
“[Hirokazu] Sawamura tested positive,” Cora said, before a question was asked.
Unfortunately for the Red Sox, this has been the road trip of the positive COVID-19 test. During Tuesday's 8-5 loss to the Rays, the Red Sox got yet more bad news, with shortstop Xander Bogaerts getting pulled in the bottom of the second inning due to a positive test result.
It started with Friday’s opener of a three-game series in Cleveland when the Sox learned that Kiké Hernández tested positive and Christian Arroyo was identified as a close contact, taking away the team’s two regular second basemen in one fell swoop.
Two days later, Arroyo tested positive.
Prior to Monday night’s game came the news that relievers Matt Barnes and Martín Peréz tested positive. And during the game, lefty Josh Taylor was pulled out of the bullpen in the fifth inning, identified as a close contact of either Barnes or Pérez -- or perhaps both.
That’s why Cora’s announcement about Hirokazu Sawamura had an almost inevitable tone.
The Red Sox now have four relief pitchers on the COVID-19 injured list and two position players, with Bogaerts yet to officially be placed on the IL.
“I'm concerned. I am,” said Cora. “It feels like it's one every day. It's just the nature of where we're at. This is our reality. We just have to keep doing what we're doing as far as testing and see what happens. Hopefully this is the end of it, but there are no guarantees.”
In recent days, quality control coach Ramón Vázquez tested positive, while first-base coach Tom Goodwin was identified as a close contact. Strength and conditioning coach Kiyoshi Momose tested positive a few days ago also, and he is stuck in a hotel room in Cleveland -- just like Arroyo and Hernández.
Cora did add some light-heartedness to his call on Monday by adding that Hernández is going downright stir crazy.
“He feels good. He FaceTimed me today,” said Cora. “He had a full uniform, he was actually wearing the grey top, he has his old cleats and his hat, running around the room. He’s going nuts. He’s just so full of energy. He said, ‘I feel great, I was ready to go two days ago.’”
Due to COVID-19 protocols, a player typically has to be away from the team a minimum of 10 days following a positive test.
A best-case scenario would have Hernández returning for the home series against the Rays Sept. 6-8.
“We can have a meeting inside with TVs, [Hernández] prepared the offensive meeting today. Should be fun, should be good, I’m looking forward to that,” said Cora. “I mean, he’s hilarious. The fact that he cannot do too much, he has his whole bag there and that’s it, there’s nothing he can do. He can’t hit, he can’t throw, just watch games and try to stay positive with the whole situation.”
Arroyo’s best-case scenario for when he returns is similar to Hernández.
For Barnes, Pérez and Sawamura, it is unlikely they will pitch for the Red Sox any time before the road trip that starts Sept. 10 in Chicago.
Taylor, who tested positive during Summer Camp last season, could be back a little sooner than the other relievers if he continues to test negative.
With 28 games left in their season, the Red Sox hold a one-game lead over Oakland for the second American League Wild Card spot. Boston trails the Yankees by two games for the first spot.
“We still have a lead in the Wild Card and tomorrow is September 1, and September should be fun. It’s not a grind,” said Cora. “When you’re fighting for a playoff spot, you’ve got a chance to play in October, it should be fun. It hasn’t been easy, but I try to focus on the positives when I get to the room, when I get to the house and try to put everything in the past. But then the next day comes and you get this. It’s been up and down, to be honest with you, the last five days.”