We have seen a few situations arise since camps have opened back up where players had to remain away from the ballparks because their results did not come back from their COVID-19 tests with the rest of the team. That happened to the Cincinnati Reds this past week when Trevor Bauer had to stay home because after being tested his results were delayed – an issue that seems to be happening as the MLB testing facility in Utah doesn’t seem to be capable of handling all of the testing from all 30 teams with the turn around time as they had hoped, leading to some teams using other facilities at times for their testing purposes.
With starting pitchers, a delayed testing result is a larger issue than one for a position player. If a position player has a delayed test and isn’t allowed to be with the team for a day, while it’s not the most ideal situation, you can plug someone in. If that happens for that days starting pitcher, a team is left without someone they can realistically fill in as a “starter”. You could go with a bullpen day if needed, and perhaps you’ve got a “long man” who could fill in, but there’s a big drop off from say, Sonny Gray to whoever the “long man” or bullpen day would present – and if you have to go with a bullpen day, that’s going to effect the team moving forward for several days, too.
So what would the Cincinnati Reds do if such a situation came up? Manager David Bell was asked about if that potential problem were a concern and something they have considered.
“It is. The number one concern is keeping everyone healthy. The second part is winning games and winning a championship,” said Bell. “When someone is not available our first concern is hoping they’re healthy and then beyond that, it’s like yeah, we want everyone available to help us win games. So when a starting pitcher falls into that category, it’s something we’ll have to deal with. The good thing now is that it’s not the regular season, and any time that has happened, we’ve been extremely cautious in the way we’ve as a team and organization have gone about it, because we can afford to do that, and it’s our number one priority – to do whatever it takes to stay healthy”
As always, health is the number one priority – as it should be. But the team also understands that this could be a situation that presents itself and they do need to be ready for it if and when it does happen.
“During this process with what does that mean when it’s delayed, what does that mean when it’s pending – our goal is to get a great understanding of what that means and then by the time the season starts to be able to make the best decision for each individual and for our team,” said Bell. “If there’s no added risk, and they’re still delayed or pending then we’ll move forward with having them around the team. As of right now we’re still trying to get a little bit further along in that understanding and a little more clarity and confidence that that’s the case. So in those cases we have been the ones, as an organization, we’ve elected to not have an individual or two at the ballpark because their test have been pending and didn’t come back with the rest of the group.”
That is interesting. While there’s certainly a gap in testing submission to testing results that could leave open the chance that someone could have contracted COVID-19 in the meantime and be spreading it around, that extra day delay does increase those odds ever so slightly. Perhaps there’s protocol there between “pending” and “double checking a result” that we don’t know about – where “pending” simply means hasn’t been tested yet.
Back to what the team could do, though, that’s where things do get interesting. If you are at home, you could simply make a phone call over to the Prasco Park crew and ask “which starting pitcher is ready to go” and bring that player in to fill in for the day. Obviously the downgrade from the big league starter to whoever happens to fill in is probably going to be there – otherwise the fill-in would be in the Major League rotation – but, that situation probably doesn’t hammer your bullpen for the next 3-4 days, either.
But if you are on the road when this situation happens, that’s where things could get a bit more complicated. Teams can travel with two or three taxi squad players – if it’s three, one of them has to be a catcher. Maybe a team takes a starting pitcher from the taxi squad with them for this very specific scenario. But if they don’t, then things could come down to something like “is the long man available?” or “guess we’ve got to do a bullpen day and hope for the best”.
In a scenario where the team would take a starting pitcher from the taxi squad on the road for this kind of scenario, how do they handle that? You don’t want to have him throwing while on the trip because if you need them to go, but they threw a bullpen the day before to “stay on routine”, you aren’t going to be getting the same kind of guy. But you also could wind up with a situation where if you don’t throw that bullpen session, but don’t need that guy to fill in anywhere on a longer road trip, that they could go two weeks without throwing.
It’s a tough situation all around, and hopefully it’s one that can be avoided. But from what we’ve seen so far in the first two weeks of testing – it’s likely to happen to someone in the game. Maybe it won’t happen to every team, and maybe it will just work out that it won’t happen to any starting pitchers that happen to be pitching that very day. Teams do need to be prepared for it to happen, though – and the solutions need to be thought out in advance. The easy answer – well, it’s not actually easy at all. Try to prepare for it and hope it never happens.