Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes was stunned to learn that his COVID-19 PCR test taken on Thursday came back positive.
Barnes was far less stunned when, two days into his quarantine, he was cleared to return to action with his test being ruled a non-infectious positive.
“Being the union rep, I was one of the people who helped build these protocols, if you will, or helped sign off on these protocols for everybody, so I know them very well,” said Barnes. “I can tell you even before we had COVID in 2018 or 2019, I didn't go anywhere in Spring Training anyways, let alone when we have a global pandemic.
“It was crazy to me when I found out on Saturday morning, I was like, 'There's no way, I haven't gone anywhere.' I went to the grocery store for 30 minutes and that was it. Other than that, it was the field and my house. And I felt completely fine.”
Barnes estimates that he tested negative as many as eight times with either PCR or rapid tests over the last week. He confirmed it was just the one test that registered as a positive.
Though he was frustrated, Barnes handled his case with patience and dutifully quarantined on his couch over the weekend -- likely glued to March Madness -- until he was told he could return to the Fenway South facilities on Monday afternoon.
“Very relieved,” said Barnes. “You've been putting the work in the entire offseason and all Spring Training and getting to the point where you're ready to go for the season and something like that happens. The medical staff did a great job of staying in contact with me, following the protocols -- obviously you've got to follow the protocols in situations like that -- and they did a fantastic job. We were able to get enough negative tests to come back. I’m definitely excited.”
Future is bright
One of the things that struck Red Sox manager Alex Cora as he watched the final few innings of Spring Training on Tuesday is how bright a future Boston has. This came as he got to watch some of the team’s top prospects (Triston Casas, Jeter Downs, Jarren Duran and Nick Yorke) in action one last time.
“I was just thinking the last three innings, watching those kids play, this organization is in a good spot,” Cora said. “Playing Nick, Jeter, Jarren -- they just go out there and play. They played a lot. They grew a lot. That’s why I feel that we did an amazing job with the big league club, but I was [also] able to be around those kids -- Casas. The future is bright. We feel very good where we’re at.
“It’s very impressive to see all this stuff. It was fun. All the positive things that we did in the spring, just to be around those kids and to see the potential, that was really good. That was refreshing.”
Duran is the prospect closest to reaching the Majors. The center fielder capped his solid spring by going deep in the bottom of the seventh inning in Boston’s 5-3 loss to the Braves. In Grapefruit League action, Duran slashed .340/.367/.702 with six doubles, one triple and three homers.
At last, Cora had some news regarding how his rotation will line up behind Nathan Eovaldi to start the season. The Red Sox are listing the second game of the season on Saturday as TBD.
However, it seems likely the club will call up No. 7 prospect Tanner Houck to make that start in the spot vacated by ace Eduardo Rodriguez, who is expected to miss minimal time at the start of the season due to arm fatigue.
Free-agent acquisition Garrett Richards will close out the opening series of the season against the Orioles on Easter Sunday. Righty Nick Pivetta and lefty Martín Pérez will start the first two games of the three-game series against the Rays that begins on Monday.
Closing case still open
At the beginning of Spring Training, Cora said he would name a closer before the team flew to Boston. That wound up not being the case, likely because of the brief uncertainty Barnes dealt with recently.
The closer will be either Barnes or Adam Ottavino. Both are veterans entering their final season before free agency.
“I haven’t talked to the guys. Somebody will get three outs on Thursday. But I’ll talk to them maybe on the flight, maybe tomorrow, whatever,” said Cora. “But like I said, we’re very comfortable with both of them. I think they’re going to be a big part of what we’re trying to accomplish, be it the eighth or ninth. Whatever it is, they have to do the job. They know it. So I’ll talk to them.”
Cora is ready to see his team take the field in games that count.
“We're ready,” Cora said. “We’re ready to play baseball. We have a good baseball team, we do. And obviously we got to go out there and perform. I do believe we did an amazing job in Spring Training. The guys, they bought into the concept of running the bases well and playing good defense and all the stuff that we taught from November until now. We will keep talking about it. But to put it in an easy way, we have a good baseball team.”