White Sox

COVID-19 concerns spur Twins to sideline two coaches in 60s for 2020 season

COVID-19 concerns spur Twins to sideline two coaches in 60s for 2020 season

The Minnesota Twins decided earlier this week to sideline two members of their coaching staff for the 2020 season, not wanting to expose the ages-66 and 68 coaches to the health risks that come with a baseball season played in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk for severe illness from COVID-19 increases with age. While most Major League Baseball players are in their 20s and 30s and not deemed to be in a high-risk category due to underlying medical conditions, members of coaching staffs are typically older, sometimes significantly older. Eight out of 10 COVID-19-related deaths reported in the United States have been among adults aged 65 years and older, according to the CDC.

The two Twins coaches, Bill Evers and Bob McClure, are both over 65, and Evers underwent surgery for colon cancer in 2006. Manager Rocco Baldelli and the Twins took a precautious step.

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"Rocco said, 'Mac, I just don't know if I could sleep at night if you ended up getting sick when we could have prevented that.' Are we more at risk, being 68 years old? Probably," McClure said, as reported by The Athletic's Dan Hayes.

Could other teams follow? That remains to be seen, and decisions might be made for them as testing takes place this week.

But certainly there are other managers and coaches around the league who are in their 60s or older, including a pair of White Sox coaches. Manager Rick Renteria is still under 60, at age 58. But two members of his coaching staff are over 60, though not quite at the ages of the two coaches the Twins told to stay away from the season. Pitching coach Don Cooper is 64, and third-base coach Nick Capra is 62.

Elsewhere, though, older managers — the guys making the big bucks to lead their teams — aren't planning on stepping away.

Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker is 71 years old but is heading to Texas — one of the states experiencing the most drastic rise in cases right now — with the rest of his team.

"Concerned? Yes," Baker said recently, as reported by MLB.com. "I've got to be a little bit apprehensive in what I do and where I go. But worried? I'm not worried a bit."

Joe Maddon, the former Cubs skipper now helming the Los Angeles Angels, is 66 years old.

"What I’ve done is try to prepare mentally, physically, been as diligent regarding my own personal workout program," Maddon said this week, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. "So no, I’m not concerned. If I had not prepared myself, I’d be more concerned. I’m not above anything, but I want to manage, I want to be there and I want to be part of the solution to what’s going on right now."

A wake-up call came Wednesday morning that no age group is immune from COVID-19, with Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, just 38 years old, telling 670 The Score that he had the disease and that it took him a month to test negative.

Numerous players across the league — those young, healthy types —  tested positive, as well, before the intake of tests for the return to action started this week. The Philadelphia Phillies experienced 12 positive tests among players and staff. Multiple players from the Los Angeles Angels, Seattle Mariners and Colorado Rockies tested positive. The Cubs had two staff members test positive.

As of his press conference last week, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said the team had experienced no positive tests among players or staff, but he made sure to mention the intake for Summer Camp had not yet begun.

That's happening this week as teams get ready for the three-week training period ahead of a two-month regular season and a month of playoffs. But whether the league will get to season's end remains a hope rather than a certainty.

The numbers are expected to be somewhat scary, as the NBA and the NHL both experienced a roughly five-percent rate of positive tests. But baseball is testing far more players, as many as 1,800 across the 30 teams. The NBA had 16 positive tests, but even with the same percentage, Major League Baseball could experience dozens, perhaps more than 100. We'll have to wait and see what the exact number is.

RELATED: White Sox prep to play during COVID-19: 'We don't know what tomorrow holds'

And then there's what's happening outside the walls of big league ballparks, with the number of cases skyrocketing in certain states and on the rise in many others. Just Tuesday, infectious-disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci told Congress that the U.S. could experience 100,000 new cases a day if preventative measures aren't taken.

Fauci pointed out four states where cases are dramatically rising: Arizona, California, Florida and Texas. Those states are home to 10 major league teams, a third of the league, and many pro baseball players call those four states home.

It will be on players to be responsible for their movement when they're away from the ballpark, and it doesn't just mean taking their own health into their hands. An irresponsible decision could lead to others being exposed, as White Sox catcher James McCann laid out last week.

"To be able to have the trust in each other and pitchers throwing the ball and if he’s been out the night before doing something and catches something," McCann said, "the next thing you know the entire infield is fielding ground balls off the bat and touching the same thing pitchers have been touching.

"There are so many unknowns. I think the biggest thing is preaching to each other to control what you can control. Be smart and take care of the stuff off the field as best as you can."

And it's not just teammates or opposing players in their 20s and 30s. It could mean these older managers and coaches coming into contact with the virus, and they have a higher risk of severe illness.

Already several players have opted out of the season because of health concerns.

We'll see if any managers or coaches are part of the positive tests, or if positive tests among players or staff spur more decisions like the one made in the Twin Cities.


Aaron Bummer latest to join big White Sox contingent on injured list

Aaron Bummer latest to join big White Sox contingent on injured list

In the last eight days, the White Sox have put four players on the injured list.

Aaron Bummer, arguably the team's best and most important relief pitcher, became the latest to join the sizable contingent of banged-up South Siders when the team sent him to the 10-day injured list Saturday morning with a biceps strain.

Bummer departed Friday night's game against the Cleveland Indians with biceps soreness after noticing something was amiss when he threw a pitch in the seventh inning. That pitch was immediately preceded by a throwing error, Bummer spiking a throw to first base into the ground and putting two men on base with two outs. Bummer got a visit from the trainer and left shortly thereafter.

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The 26-year-old lefty emerged as a key cog in the White Sox bullpen with an excellent 2019 campaign, posting a 2.13 ERA in 67.2 innings of work. He's off to a similarly terrific start this season, with a 1.23 ERA in 7.1 innings.

The White Sox added Bummer to the group of young players they've locked up with long-term contracts in the last few seasons, and after getting that deal in spring training, he's under team control through the 2026 season.

Without him, manager Rick Renteria will have to turn to other options for high-leverage situations. Closer Alex Colomé, as well as Evan Marshall and Jimmy Cordero, have been strong in continuing their late-inning roles from a season ago. Rookie Codi Heuer and veteran Ross Detwiler have also been mighty impressive as part of a generally strong White Sox relief corps so far this season, and both could see more action in higher leverage spots.

Bummer's injury adds to a lengthy list for the White Sox. The team has 40 percent of its Opening Day starting rotation on the injured list along with its starting middle infield and top relief arm.

The injury updates from general manager Rick Hahn earlier this week were relatively positive, and none of the current injuries — aside from that of young pitcher Jimmy Lambert — seem to be of the long-term variety. However, in a season such as this one, which is already more than 23 percent over and done with, even missing the minimum 10 days of an injured-list stay is akin to missing a month during a normal campaign.

RELATED: White Sox in the thick of it as AL Central race with Indians, Twins heats up

Per Hahn, injured starting pitchers Carlos Rodón and Reynaldo López, both on the IL with shoulder soreness, could be back in the next few weeks. Shortstop Tim Anderson, put on the injured list last weekend with a groin strain, is expected back when his 10 days are up in the coming days. Second baseman Nick Madrigal, whose Tuesday-night shoulder separation looked like it could have been something significantly worse, could be back in action in just a couple weeks. And designated hitter Edwin Encarnación, who also left Tuesday night's game early, missed an IL trip altogether, even though he remains out of the lineup for a fourth straight day with SC joint inflammation.

And now Bummer. It's a long list of maladies for these White Sox, worrisome in any scenario but perhaps more costly in a short season in which numerous players talked about staying healthy as a hopeful competitive advantage. But the White Sox are certainly not the only major league team bitten by the injury bug through the first couple weeks of this most unusual season, the months-long layoff and a brief ramp-up period before Opening Day figuring to have something to do with that.

The White Sox, expectedly, will continue to soldier on with pro sports teams' favorite mentality: next man up. The team called on a pair of arms from its alternate training site in Schaumburg, bringing local favorite and 2016 first-round draft pick Zack Burdi to the major leagues, along with Drew Anderson. The bullpen churn also saw the White Sox designate Brady Lail for assignment Saturday morning.


White Sox in the thick of it as AL Central race with Indians, Twins heats up

White Sox in the thick of it as AL Central race with Indians, Twins heats up

This AL Central race is going to be fun.

It looked like the Minnesota Twins might have blitzed right past the White Sox in the season’s first weekend, issuing a 14-2 clubbing on their way out of Chicago in the decisive third game of that series. The White Sox went on to Northeast Ohio and dropped the first two of that three-game set against the Cleveland Indians, and a 1-4 start threw some chilly Great Lakes water on the preseason thought of the South Siders running with the class of the division in this season’s 60-game sprint to October.

But the White Sox turned their 1-4 start around with a six-game win streak. And after a 2-0 nail-biter of a win over the Indians on Friday night that reshuffled the standings, the Pale Hose have now won their last five games against division foes, including a pair against these Clevelanders.

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The intensity’s been there all week. After a sweep of the Kansas City Royals, the first three of the White Sox four games against the Milwaukee Brewers had a distinct playoff-style feel to them, well pitched, closely decided contests that struck as the most intense games the White Sox have played in years.

Be it the compressed nature of this season’s schedule or the fact that these White Sox are finally equipped to compete for a division title, this is unlike anything that’s graced the South Side in some time.

“We're treating every game like a must-win,” White Sox starting pitcher Dylan Cease said Friday night. “These games definitely don't have the same feeling as Game 15 of a 162-game season. We're coming to the ballpark to win every day."

When it comes to the Twins, atop the Central standings with 10 wins — one of only two major league squads to hit double digits to this point, even with back-to-back defeats at the hands of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Royals — it seems the White Sox will have to win a few more home run derbies the likes of which we saw in that opening weekend.

But runs have been somewhat scarce for the White Sox after they scored a combined 20 runs and banged out a total of 35 hits in winning the final two games of that series last weekend in Kansas City. They’ve scored just eight times in their last four games combined. There’s more than one way to win a game, of course, and as injuries continue to make the White Sox dugout look like the Tune Squad bench late in that game against the Monstars, the South Siders have figured out a few others besides blowing up the scoreboard.

Friday night’s playoff feel brought the Indians’ sensational pitching staff to Guaranteed Rate Field, and Aaron Civale was just about as good as he was against the White Sox last week in Cleveland. He didn’t pile up the strikeouts this time, but he still pitched seven innings of one-run ball, the lone run he gave up coming home on a first-inning double-play grounder.

Cease, somewhat miraculously, countered with five shutout innings of his own despite putting nearly the entire city of Cleveland on base. He walked five guys, including issuing four leadoff walks, hit another and allowed a couple of hits. Thankfully for Cease and the White Sox, though, he also came up with multiple clutch, inning-ending double-play balls, and the defense was excellent behind him and a trio of relievers, the first two of which had as much trouble keeping the bases clear as Cease did.

You want playoff-style drama? Scatter the bases with potential runs every inning and watch the pitchers dance their way out of one jam after another.

RELATED: White Sox confident Eloy Jiménez will improve defense after outfield miscue

That’s not going to fly on a regular basis, obviously, but it sure made for some heart-pounding baseball, which is — as anyone who was pulling double duty with playoff hockey Friday night knows — fun.

“I can't expect those kinds of results if I'm going to have that many base runners all the time,” Cease said. “Fortunately, we were able to get out of here with a 'W,' but it's not something that's going to be sustainable. So I have to do a better job of getting ahead and not doing that.”

The onslaught of high-caliber Cleveland pitching continues the rest of the weekend, and who knows if the White Sox will be able to solve it as they barely did Friday. Zach Plesac, who stymied the White Sox with 11 strikeouts in eight shutout innings last week, is up Saturday. Then it’s a heck of a pitching matchup Sunday, with Lucas Giolito facing off against current AL Cy Young front-runner Shane Bieber, who’s struck out 35 hitters in his first three starts of the season.

That game ought to be another dandy, and with a frequently showcased rivalry between the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals waved off this weekend, the White Sox will step into the nationally televised spotlight Sunday night, the perfect spot for such a pitching matchup and a division race that’s heating up like this one is. The White Sox swapped spots with the Indians on Friday, into second place and two games back of the Twins. The Indians are just two and a half games behind the division leaders.

“Both of those teams are very good clubs,” White Sox outfielder Adam Engel said of the Twins and Indians. “Two totally different makeups, they win games differently. We have a pretty balanced attack ourselves. It’s fun playing good baseball against good teams.

“The Indians, it seems like every time they come to town or we go to Cleveland, we are facing some pretty good arms. Makes it fun. You just have to stay disciplined, stay really focused in your work. It always feels like you’re going to be part of a good baseball game.

“Those are two tough teams, and hopefully we can keep playing them well.”

RELATED: Rick Renteria: Tim Anderson, not Luis Robert, will be White Sox leadoff man

Obviously, everything’s felt different this season. There are no fans in the stands, COVID-19 is constantly threatening the completion of the campaign, and a brief ramp up to Opening Day has made for a high number of injuries across the league.

But there’s a different feeling on the South Side, too, for much more positive reasons. This team has been talking about its high expectations for months, and they’ve got a roster that looks capable of living up to them. While an expanded playoff field gives the White Sox a pretty good chance of reaching the postseason, they’ve still got their eyes on the biggest prizes, and the first one of those is the Central crown.

They’ve played just 14 games. But it sure feels like a pennant race.

“I don’t remember ever really watching scoreboards so closely as a team through the first couple of weeks in the season,” Engel said. “We come in off the field and we want to see what’s going on around the league, or we’re announcing what scores are postgame for different teams. You control what you can control, and you want to win as many games as you can. But we’re all keeping our eyes on the scoreboard, and I’m sure it’s like that league-wide.

“Everybody kind of feels like they’re in it right now, and 60 games, this is going to be a heck of a season. I’m excited that we’re playing good baseball right now. Hopefully we can keep it going.”