Before a revamped roster can lead the Cardinals back onto the field and back to baseball Saturday in Chicago, the team first will take its quarantine on the road, again.
In addition to promoting a handful of new players, including top prospect Dylan Carlson, to fill in the gaps on their team, the Cardinals rented 41 cars so that 41 members of their traveling party can drive themselves to Chicago on Friday. The purpose of the Cardinal convoy will be to add one more day of isolation from each other before they’ll regroup for the first time in nine days on Saturday morning — a few hours before playing a doubleheader.
This is a 2020 spin on an old baseball joke.
It’s 25 cars for 25 players — gaining distance from one virus.
These are the lengths baseball has required the Cardinals to go in order to play their first game in 17 days since an outbreak snaked through the clubhouse. The Cardinals learned Thursday of a coach who received a confirmed positive test for COVID-19, bringing the team total to 18, including 10 players. The new positive was identified via contact tracing this past weekend and isolated from the team, but at least two tests were inconclusive. The Cardinals have had four consecutive days of testing without a new, unexpected positive, and that earned them clearance to resume their season Saturday against the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field.
They’ll play a doubleheader Saturday and will have 44 days to try and play 55 games for a complete 60-game season. The Cardinals expect to play doubleheaders Monday and Wednesday sandwiched around Tuesday’s game at Wrigley Field. Major League Baseball is expected to announce those Friday, cramming a total of eight games into a five-day visit to Chicago. Adam Wainwright is set to start Saturday’s first game.
“A lot of baseball coming,” said John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations. “We’re 2-3. Obviously, when you look at our schedule … it’s daunting. Everybody would agree it’s not going to be easy. But if this team clicks, it’s going to be very good. And that’s what we believe. Deciding today that just because it’s daunting we’re going to wave the white flag, I think that wouldn’t be the right answer. We’re going to approach this as if, candidly, we’re getting a second chance.”
It starts with first impressions.
In addition to bringing rookie Carlson up from the alternate-site camp in Springfield, the Cardinals plan to add pitchers Rob Kaminsky and Seth Elledge, first baseman John Nogowski, and lefty Ricardo Sanchez as their 29th man for the doubleheader. All are making their debut on the major-league roster. As advertised, when Carlson arrives, Carlson will start. The Cardinals will also rely on the young players because they have been competing and facing hitters and pitchers while the big-league team was in lockdown.
Cardinals stalwart Jose Oquendo will also return to the third-base coaches’ box and Roberto Espinoza will join Mike Shildt’s staff to fill in for absent coaches who have either tested positive for the virus or bowed out of the season for concerns.
The members of Shildt’s coaching group who had positive tests invoked their right to medical privacy and have not been identified by the team.
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The Cardinals have had 10 players test positive for COVID-19. An 11th player, lefty Austin Gomber, will be added to the COVID-19 injury list because he was considered a risk by the team due to contact tracing. That made it so he could not pitch in the past week and the Cardinals want to use the IL so he can work out this weekend and join the team in Chicago.
The 10 players who have the virus, including All-Stars Yadier Molina and shortstop Paul DeJong, will not join the team in Chicago, Mozeliak said. Some of them, like Molina and DeJong, continue to go through the re-entry testing but must receive additional testing in the coming days and also get several workouts in after nearly two weeks without workouts.
The Cardinals last played on July 29 and they’ve idled with a 2-3 record and three-game losing streak ever since. They spent six days in isolation at their Milwaukee hotel before returning home for two workouts before the outbreak surfaced again and sent them into another week of quarantine, at home in St. Louis. They have had two days on the field in the past 16 while some teams have finished a third of their schedule. Major League Baseball wanted to avoid yanking the Cardinals out of quarantine and into competition, but the calendar doesn’t stop and the Cardinals improvised a work-around.
The Cardinals’ set up workouts like a car wash the past couple of days at Busch Stadium. Players had the field or mound to themselves for 20 minutes. Workouts were staggered. There was never more than one pitcher or one hitter on the field with one coach and one trainer. The coach who received the positive test Thursday had been isolated from the team all week with no interaction. While not game-speed, the workouts kept pitchers closer to game-available.
“It was a very tight schedule — never more than one player on the field at one time,” Mozeliak said. “I commend Shildt and his staff for figuring out a way to make it work. It was very different. At least we got movement. You couldn’t just not do anything and go play. Then you risk possible baseball injuries. Given where we are right now, we can’t afford that.”
After Wainwright starts Saturday’s opener, the Cardinals will likely cover the second game of the doubleheader with relievers. Dakota Hudson will start Sunday, Mozeliak said.
All of the pitchers will be conservatively used as the season resumes.
Even with seven-inning doubleheaders there will be as many as 60 innings of regulation to cover during five days in the Windy City.
The Cardinals expect as many as 10 doubleheaders on their revised schedule.
To fortify the big-league club, the Cardinals drained the depth at their satellite camp. The Cardinals added infielder Kramer Robertson, pitcher Bryan Dobzanski, and, as previously reported, catcher Pedro Pages to backfill the player pool in Springfield.
In addition to live batting practice and game situations at Camp Oquendo, the new players added to the Cardinals’ traveling party can remain outside the quarantine for their journey north. All clear players who weren’t present for the outbreak or its residue won’t have to drive themselves to Chicago. They’ll take a bus, while their teammates take directions. The Cardinals won’t all hit the road at the same time — as there will be a rolling schedule of departures. Fitting. The first wave of positive tests had to drive themselves back to St. Louis from Milwaukee — so it’s poetic that the team has to retrace those treads to get its season back off the shoulder and in a lane.
“Really excited that we have the green light to proceed,” Mozeliak said. “It’s the hand we’re dealt. No one is going to listen to us complain. No one is going to hear us whine. Come 1:15 on Saturday, we’re expected to play. Those are the rules.”