One phone call Friday morning set in motion a reversal of the Cubs’ weekend plans. Instead of battling the Cardinals in a three-game series at Busch Stadium, they were heading home to Chicago and had four off days to fill before their next game.
“I think it's a little bit of a reset for us,” Cubs manager David Ross said Saturday, “ … and we’ve got continue to try to stay as sharp as we possibly can, get back to maybe work on a few things we might want to clean up in this downtime, and use it to our advantage as best we can.”
With the Cubs’ weekend series against the Cardinals postponed, due to three more members of the Cardinals organization testing positive for COVID-19, Ross said he gave the Cubs position players the option to take Saturday off. For the pitchers, it was a light workout day, a chance to throw a bullpen.
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The Cubs plan to play a simulated game Sunday and have a “fun” competition on Monday, Ross said.
Other aspects of the Cubs’ path forward remain unclear, like when will they make up the postponed series. And even more pressing, which pitcher will start on Tuesday at Cleveland?
Ross said he and his coaches have talked about how the schedule adjustment will affect the starting rotation, but there are still discussions to be had with the pitching staff.
Left-hander Jon Lester, who was supposed to start on Friday, was among those scheduled to throw a bullpen session Saturday.
“Jon especially, a veteran guy, knows how to take care of himself and knows how to back off or give a little more,” Ross said. “…There's no substitute for competition. I think we all know that. And getting out there against another jersey is important. It is important to stay sharp, physically and mentally, and staying ready. But we have a ton of professionals.”
He pointed to the almost four months of off time between the cancellation of Spring Training and the start of the regular season.
Kyle Hendricks, for example, prepared for the accelerated summer camp so well that he threw a complete game on Opening Day. Any reshuffling of the rotation’s schedule couldn’t be nearly as much of a challenge.
“It's 2020, where we know we've got to take it one day at a time,” Ross said. “… We were planning to play St. Louis, they told us we weren't, so we came home and we adjusted. And we'll do that as best we can to continue this season.”
Ross had been hoping for a different kind of phone call on Friday morning. The Cardinals traveling party produced no new positive COVID-19 tests for consecutive days before MLB cleared the team to return to St. Louis and resume their schedule. The week prior, 13 players and staff members had tested positive.
“Going into it, with all that was going on, we were hoping to hear some news that morning, or just a reassurance,” Ross said, “and they had assured us that they were going to communicate every detail of why they thought we should be on the field.”
Instead, the Cubs received word that Friday’s game had been postponed. Ross described Major League Baseball’s communication as “outstanding.”
The Cubs support staff adjusted on the fly. Director of Major League travel and clubhouse operations Vijay Tekchandani contacted United Airlines to set up a return flight. Team dietitian Jordan Brown arranged for meals at the hotel that weren’t originally on the schedule.
“A lot of adjustments on their part,” Ross said, “and making sure everybody was comfortable and had some downtime but had some space to just get out of their room.”
Tekchandani had chosen a hotel with an outdoor patio that the players could use without running into other hotel guests and while practicing social distancing.
Around 5 p.m., the team learned that the rest of the series had been canceled. Less than an hour later, a bus was at the hotel to take the Cubs to the airport. They were back in Chicago before 8 p.m..
“Everybody was good yesterday,” Ross said of the players. “If I go back to my playing days, no matter what, you kind of welcome an off day in the middle of a long stretch. So, the first off day is always nice, nice and relaxing.”
The Cubs were off to a 10-3 start, in what was originally scheduled to be 17 straight games without an off day. Between a rainout in Cincinnati and the COVID-19 related postponement this weekend, that hasn’t been the case.
Now, the Cubs face a different kind of challenge: carrying momentum through a weekend off.
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