PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — An early April visit by the Red Sox to the coronavirus hot zone of Seattle is very much in doubt.
And figuring out where those games could be played or made up is already turning into a logistical conundrum.
On Wednesday, the Mariners canceled their first two series of the season, scheduled to begin March 26, after Washington’s governor, Jay Inslee banned all large group events through at least March. According to the Center for Disease Control’s map Wednesday, Washington showed the highest number of COVID-19 cases — 267 — in the United States.
The Red Sox’ visit to Seattle is scheduled to begin April 9 and last for four days. After that, they would travel to Oakland for three games. California has seen 152 cases so far, third highest in nation, so there’s uncertainty involving the A’s series as well.
Scenarios in play for what the Red Sox could do are still very much in the planning stages, but the two most talked-about plans are for the Mariners to play at their Arizona spring training stadium. Another option would be for the Mariners and Red Sox to swap home dates; the Mariners are slated to visit in late June.
Playing in an empty stadium in Seattle does not appear to be a likely outcome — sending a contingent of players and staff into an area trying to cope with the spread of the disease is not a responsible decision for the visitors or the host city.
A decision on what the Red Sox might or might not do is not the top priority for MLB, which in conjunction with the Mariners, Rangers and Twins, the first two teams to visit Seattle, is still trying to hammer out what to do with those definitively canceled series.
“We are having a wide variety of conversations right now,” said an MLB spokesperson. “Some clubs are higher on the list than others in terms of what’s happening in their particular markets.”
The Red Sox open the season on the road but in locales — Toronto (March 26-29) and Baltimore (March 30-April 1) — which are relatively unaffected by COVID-19 right now.
According to Wednesday’s CDC map, there were nine reported coronavirus cases in the state of Maryland. Toronto is monitoring 19 positive cases of the virus, according to Toronto Public Health, with the entire country of Canada reporting only 93 cases, according to Infection Prevention and Control Canada.
After Toronto and Baltimore, the Red Sox come home to play , according to the current schedule, six games at Fenway Park — with or without fans — before the Mariners series.
Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke is not in on any relocation talks.
We are having a wide variety of conversations right now. Some clubs are higher on the list than others in terms of what’s happening in their particular markets.
“I’ve planned to just play as usual until we hear otherwise,” said Roenicke. “I don’t know more than just as right now, we’re planning to go on as we would until we hear differently — we can’t really do much more than that.”
Wherever the games take place, the The other great unknown is whether or not fans will be allowed in to the ballpark. to watch.
“However we handle this and however we put a stop to it, I know certainly every sports team is trying to figure out what’s the best way to do it and if it’s playing games without people there, then that’s weird,” said Roenicke. “But, you know, I guess that’s what we have to do to try to end it and get this thing controlled as soon as we can.”
Rodriguez gets start
The pronouncement has yet to come from on high — that is, from the lips of Roenicke — but Eduardo Rodriguez, who started Wednesday’s 3-1 spring victory over the Rays, will be the Opening Day starter for the Red Sox.
Much like previous Red Sox managers Terry Francona, John Farrell, and Alex Cora, Roenicke is skittish about delivering premature official proclamations. Usually the identity of the first-game starter is one of the worst-kept secrets in camp, even one when even the most casual fan could figure out based on a combination of pedigree and spring training schedule. With Chris Sale out of the picture for late March with his bad elbow and with Rodriguez’s start on Wednesday working out neatly for the opener in Toronto, there has been little suspense about who’s No. 1.
“You hate to do something too early because if something happens and then you back off a pitcher a day, then I’ve got to clean it up with you guys — I’d rather not do that,” said Roenicke. “The closer we get to the end — you guys can figure out the math and see who is going to be that opening day guy.”
One wiseguy scribe sitting a respectful 6-feet-plus away from Roenicke hazarded a guess that Wednesday’s starter would be that guy.
“You’ve already done the math,” said Roenicke.
Even though he was inefficient with 80 pitches over four scoreless innings, Rodriguez was still well ahead of the Rays’ hitters. He struck out 10, six looking. He walked just one and allowed six hits, five of them singles.
“The good thing is he struck out 10, the bad thing is you know you’re going to throw a lot of pitches — we wanted him to go five, he really didn’t need to,” said Roenicke. “He and I talked that he wanted to go back out there for another inning, for another couple batters. It really isn’t worth it where his pitch count was.”
In just his sixth game this spring, Xander Bogaerts finally snagged a hit, a single.
“Slowly my timing is coming back,” said Bogaerts, whose spring was delayed by an ankle injury. “Just trying to hit the balls on the barrel now. Have a nice off-day tomorrow so just have to get my body. I really need that day off. We’ll see how I come back.
Roenicke said he planned to play Bogaerts in Friday’s game.
“He’s fine, I just don’t want to play him too many innings yet,” said Roenicke.
Sale may resume throwing
As long as he is pain-free in his elbow, Sale is slated to resume throwing on Saturday.
“Today I saw them in the training room going through exercises and probably testing out the elbow to make sure there’s nothing there, and if there’s still pain there, we can’t have him start throwing,” said Roenicke.
The Red Sox have an off day Thursday, but in order to keep the starters in line, (No. 2 starter) Nate Eovaldi will throw around five innings in a simulated game on a back field at JetBlue Park. He will be followed by Darwinzon Hernandez, Brandon Workman, and Josh Osich.
One is enough
When it comes to bullpen usage this season, the plan for now, with the rare exception, is to keep Brandon Workman and Matt Barnes at one inning per outing apiece.
“If we have to do four outs, I think we’re OK with that in certain situations, we know we just can’t do it very often, but I think sometimes it comes up where maybe the lineup tells you that to do that, or maybe they’ve had a lot of rest,” said Roenicke. “The thing about a closer is if you use him truly as a closer, and he’s not in anything but save situations, you may be three, four days in a row without him pitching. If that’s the case and you need four outs from him, that’s the time you need to do it.”
The early indications are that Roenicke is a slow-to-boil type of skipper. When the topic of the Yankees getting all the love from the preseason prognosticators came, he flicked it off like so much lint.
“Well, we know they’re really good — they are, there’s no question about it, they’re a well-rounded team and they’ve got great players,” said Roenicke. “We feel we have great players. And I know Tampa Bay has a really good team and they’re picked over us. And I don’t want to say it’s not wrong to pick it that way but we still have great players. We know if everything comes together, we can compete with anybody. That’s the way our guys feel and the way we go about it. Preseason predictions are sometimes right-on. Sometimes they’re quite a bit off. I understand that’s part of it. We’re OK with that. We’ll see what we can do to change that.”