Cubs, MLB face daily reminders of COVID-19 risk, decision to keep going

Cubs, MLB face daily reminders of COVID-19 risk, decision to keep going

Long after the Cubs finished their three-inning, Fourth-of-July vacation from the pandemic Saturday, manager David Ross returned by himself to the field, where he spent a few minutes of mostly quiet time, a few grounds-crew members working on the mound and batter’s boxes in the background.

“Just taking a minute, trying to enjoy what I get to do, what this whole process is,” said Ross, who walked around and gazed at the Wrigley Field green expanse and out at the scoreboard with the U.S. flag against the blue sky, then snapped a picture.

“Everybody was gone, just finished a workout and I had a minute,” he said, “and it just looked cool, on the Fourth of July. Just a little moment for me.”

The rare moment of calm amid the COVID-19 storm that rages with renewed force across much of the country and that roars against everything baseball is trying to build this summer was gone almost as soon as it began — Ross pulling the mask back across his face as he headed back indoors toward his office and eventually home.

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By the time the Cubs got together again Sunday, it was time for another round of coronavirus testing and another wait to see if they’ll remain one of only two teams without a known case among the players.

In between, they played five more innings of baseball and wondered how long 30 teams in 28 cities can keep their training camps functional and a 60-game season in play.

“We had meetings, and everybody knows what’s at risk,” said fourth starter Tyler Chatwood, who pitched three innings Sunday. "My wife is pregnant, and I have a two-year-old at home. So, I think the toughest part for me is not seeing them, but this is what I want to do.

“We all want to stay as safe as possible and we all want to get the season in.”

If Chatwood, Ross and the rest of the Cubs weren’t sure how persistent the micro-commitments and significant the undertaking of this 1,700-player effort, they have been bombarded with reminders each day — from Sunday’s testing to the news that high-profile pitchers Felix Hernandez and David Price and Cleveland bench coach Brad Mills have opted out of the 2020 season over the risk, to Giants star Buster Posey and Phillies $118 million pitcher Zach Wheeler telling media they might yet make the same decision.

Ross reiterated the day-to-day nature of evaluating the landscape and risk and navigating the protocols and emotions.

“Everybody definitely has their radar up and wants to know we’re doing everything possible,” he said. “Our guys are extremely bought-in. But everybody has a little bit of a pause as you come to the park and what each day’s going to be like.”

Sunday was only Day 3 of a 21-day training camp before a season would open on July 24.

It was only Day 2 for some other teams. And some teams, such as the Oakland A’s, postponed Sunday’s scheduled full-squad workout because their intake testing hasn’t been completed. Sean Doolittle of the Nationals told media the team in the nation’s capital is short on some basic PPE supplies, such as masks, and he remains concerned about the league’s ability to pull this off safely.

And a few miles to the south, the White Sox on Sunday said two of their players have tested positive.

MORE: White Sox announce two players test positive for COVID-19

“This not a small undertaking, trying to get a season up and running and then manage it for a 60-game season,” said Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, who suffered through a frightening, painful month-long bout with COVID-19. “I think we’re giving it the best chance to be successful.”

In addition to Hottovy, Royals manager Mike Matheny also revealed over the weekend, he battled the virus about a month ago.

As news continues to surface about positive tests, and stars as big as Mike Trout of the Angels openly talk about whether they might opt out, the Cubs mask up in their clubhouse, continue to wash and distance and ask their own questions.

“Guys are doing a great job,” Ross said. “We’re doing everything possible. But for sure, there’s a lot of pause around the league, and rightfully so.”

Not that anyone in baseball is judging anyone who chooses to opt out. In fact, far from it, Ross said. 

“These are serious issues that to a man everybody has to look at their situation individually and make a tough choice,” he said. “This is an extremely difficult environment for these players to be in. They’re having to alter their routines, continue to have other things on their mind, other than performing baseball, and still trying to make it fun.”

Hottovy said he had to make his own tough choice to return after talking about the concerns with family. Ross said some Cubs have family members at home with high-risk conditions for severe reactions if infected by the virus.

So far, the Brewers and Cubs are the only teams that have not reported any positive tests among its players.

MORE: David Ross indicates no Cubs players have tested positive for COVID-19

“It doesn’t mean somebody’s not going to test positive through no fault of their own,” Ross said “We’re at the mercy of this virus.

“But I’m super proud of our guys, how serious they’re taking it and how they’ve come in so far.”

And so far, they’ve stayed together. Whatever doubts might persist. Whatever might be around baseball’s next corner.

Said Hottovy: “How it’s managed, how we handle it on a day-to-day basis and manage it not only as an organization but across baseball is going to determine how this thing goes in the long run.”


Cubs' Colin Rea to start on Saturday, Tyler Chatwood possibly Monday

Cubs' Colin Rea to start on Saturday, Tyler Chatwood possibly Monday

The Cubs plan to start swingman Colin Rea on Saturday against the Brewers, manager David Ross said after Friday's game.

Alec Mills was originally slated to pitch Saturday but was bumped up to Friday because Tyler Chatwood was scratched with mid-back tightness. The Cubs will evaluate Chatwood to see if he's an option to pitch on Monday, when they're scheduled to play a doubleheader against the Cardinals.

Rea, 30, has made two appearances this season, allowing no runs and one hit while striking out three in three innings. He was named the 2019 Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year, sporting a 3.95 ERA in 26 starts.

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Rea's last big league start was July 30, 2016 with the Marlins. He allowed one hit in 3 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out four with no walks.


Quick takes: Pitching duel implodes in Cubs' loss to Brewers

Quick takes: Pitching duel implodes in Cubs' loss to Brewers

The Cubs just barely fell short in a 4-3 loss to the Brewers Friday at Wrigley Field.

In the ninth inning, Cubs relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel stepped into the highest-pressure situation he’s been in, perhaps all season. And he delivered. Kimbrel struck out Avisail Garcia and Manny Piña for the first and third outs of a scoreless frame. He also walked Justin Smoak and got Ben Gamel to line out to second.

But the Cubs offense didn’t overcome the late one-run deficit.

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Here are takeaways from the game:

Patience is a virtue

Jason Kipnis fouled off seven pitches before driving in the Cubs’ first run of the night.

It was the bottom of the fifth inning, and Jason Heyward and David Bote had just recorded the Cubs’ first and second hits of the game. Runners stood on first and third with one out.

Kipnis fouled off the first two pitches he saw, a changeup and a fastball. Just like that, he was behind in the count and his margin for error had shrunk. But he battled off fastballs and changeups that peppered the strike zone, and even strayed out of it. He watched a curveball in the dirt.

And then finally, Kipnis got a solid piece of an inside pitch. 

After Kipnis hit the tying run home, the Cubs’ offense kept flowing. Nico Hoerner and Ian Happ drew back-to-back walks for Bote to score. Anthony Rizzo poked a changeup out to right-center field to give the Cubs a 3-1 lead and force a Brewers pitching change.

Freddy Peralta replaced starter Brandon Woodruff on the mound. Peralta struck out the next two batters to end the inning.

Not quite pitch perfect

Alec Mills wasn’t even supposed to be pitching Friday. But when the Cubs scratched Tyler Chatwood from the lineup with mid-back tightness, Mills’ start moved up a day.

Mills was perfect through four innings, striking out six.

Mills finally put a batter on base in the fifth inning, when he walked Garcia. Then, Smoak got the Brewers’ first hit of the night off Mills. He pulled a ground ball to the right side. The Cubs defense was in the shift, so Bote, the third baseman, was playing in between first and second. Smoak’s hit snuck through the hole between Bote and second baseman Nico Hoerner.

Mills allowed two more hits but got out of the inning after giving up just one run.

The Brewers did most of their damage in the sixth. Eric Sogard singled to center field. Then, Mills hit Milwaukee’s Keston Hiura with a pitch. Christian Yelich drove them both home with a three-run homer to right field, erasing the Cubs’ lead with one swing.

Pitching duel implodes

Woodruff’s night mirrored Mills’ in many ways. The score remained locked in a scoreless tie through four innings.

The Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo was the first player from either team to reach base. He did so on a fielding error by Smoak, the Brewers first baseman, in the fourth.

The first hit from either side was a single by Smoak the next inning. Woodruff didn’t give up a hit until the fifth inning. But through 4 1/3 innings, he allowed three runs on four hits.

Where they stand

Despite the loss, the Cubs still have the best winning percentage in baseball. They are 13-4 (.765).

On Deck

The Cubs play two more games against the Brewers to finish the four-game series. What was once a 10-game homestand for the Cubs is now scheduled to be a 12-game homestand.

On Friday, Major League Baseball announced that the Cubs would play doubleheaders against the Cardinals on Monday and Tuesday, to begin making up the three-game series that was postponed due to more positive COVID-19 tests within the Cardinals organization.