The Cardinals spent one last night at the famed Pfister Hotel in downtown Milwaukee knowing their quarantined flock had received reassuring test results Tuesday and were cleared to leave Wednesday morning by Major League Baseball and practice as soon as they got home.
The team that returns to the field, however, will be significantly different than the one they last took into a game.
All-Stars Yadier Molina and Paul DeJong confirmed Tuesday that they were two of the seven players who had tested positive over the weekend for COVID-19, and starter Carlos Martinez was placed on the injured list alongside them. No corner of the Cardinals’ roster was left untouched by the virus — whether it’s removing the cleanup hitter from the lineup, two rising young relievers Kodi Whitley and Junior Fernandez from the bullpen, or Molina, the de facto captain of the team, from the behind the plate.
The healthy players remaining in Milwaukee received the results of their Tuesday morning tests later that evening, and with two consecutive days of no new positive tests the Cardinals received approval from the commissioner’s office to fly home, practice, and prepare to host Cubs on Friday at Busch Stadium. It will be their first game in nine days and presumably Jack Flaherty’s first start in two weeks.
“We got past a big hurdle,” said John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations, from the hotel room he had spent the previous five days inside. “We understand there is going to be baseball challenges. We understand there is going to be roster challenges. We understand we’ve lost some very key members of our team. But these things happen in a season. This just happens to be a more unique version of it.”
Writing in Spanish on social media that he was “saddened” by testing positive for the novel coronavirus despite taking every suggested precaution, Molina was the first of the seven players to reveal his results. The team later announced that DeJong, Whitley, Fernandez, and infielders Edmundo Sosa and Rangel Ravelo had also given permission to be have their positive tests results acknowledged. The roster moves the team had to make were going to reveal the identifies of the players, so many chose to “stay ahead of it,” officials said.
Every player except for Ravelo was placed on the injured list, and Ravelo will follow them soon after the Cardinals add reinforcements from their alternate-site roster. Martinez was the sixth player placed on the injured list.
When contacted, his representative said Martinez declined to reveal his test results.
“I will do everything within my power to return as soon as possible for Cardinals fans, the city of St. Louis, and my teammates,” Molina said in a statement also released by the team.
DeJong said he “will approach my healing as I do all other things in my life — with education, commitment, and persistence. I look forward to re-joining the team soon.”
The Cardinals will have at least four spots to fill on their 28-man active roster for Friday’s game at Busch Stadium. Pitchers Alex Reyes and Genesis Cabrera have been recalled from the camp in Springfield, Mo., and are likely to join the team as early as Wednesday’s workout. Max Schrock, already on with the team as a taxi-squad member, will be added to the active roster. Brad Miller was activated from the injured list on Tuesday. What the Cardinals do with that remaining spot will speak to their decisions with the rotation — and how they see their lineup without DeJong’s sock in it.
Tommy Edman is likely to take over at shortstop with Matt Carpenter returning to third base. Miller offers an option in the infield or at designated hitter. The Cardinals could look to prospect Dylan Carlson as addition for the outfield with one of the regulars shifting to DH.
The Cardinals arrived in Milwaukee a week ago, after a Wednesday night game in Minnesota. They went into lockdown on Friday morning — and have been there ever since, leaving their rooms to be tested or just opening their door to see what food had been dropped off via delivery. Still, word reached Mozeliak that around the hotel “people weren’t happy that we were around.”
“I did hear that people assumed that we had COVID,” Mozeliak said. “And I will say once we started learning of the positives we had them removed right away.”
A Milwaukee-area Chick-fil-A restaurant did surprise the team with food Tuesday.
The Cardinals learned of their first positive tests late Thursday, and at that time isolated the two players with positive tests and a third player who had been in close contact with them. By Sunday, they had 12 confirmed positive tests. The last positive was revealed Monday. Six of the 13 positive tests were staff members. Of that group, only media relations director Brian Bartow has consented to be identified. The Cardinals do plan on adding to manager Mike Shildt’s staff, and will bring hitting coordinator Russ Steinhorn in from Springfield to assist hitting coach Jeff Albert.
Mozeliak said the team has traced the origin of the outbreak back to St. Louis. He described how over the weekend was the “darkest moment” as the infections started to spike and his sensation was: “Oh gosh, this could get everyone here.” He believes that the off day Thursday — during which there was little interaction between the 57 members of the traveling party, even those who worked out at Miller Park — slowed the virus’ spread.
“I think that really changed our trajectory,” Mozeliak said. “Which is scary because we still had 13 positive. I think if we had a game that day and treated it as a normal day — which we would have, we would not have known of those positives — I think we would have been looking at a very dramatic effect on this team. Thirteen could have easily doubled.”
On Tuesday, six of the 13 had mild symptoms ranging from coughs to headaches and low-grad fevers.
All seven players who tested positive will be out at least eight days after their most recent positive test. To return to the team, they must have consecutive negative tests — including one from MLB’s lab — and they must be at least 24 hours apart. The players must also be free of symptoms, without a fever for 72 hours, and go through a series of additional exams that include an antibody test and a cardiac evaluation.
The Cardinals had seven games postponed as a result of their quarantine, skipping one series in Milwaukee and a four-game interleague set with Detroit. To complete their 60-game schedule, they have 52 days to play 55 games. They have an open day next week and a handful of doubleheaders with seven-inning games in their future.
“It’s doable,” Mozeliak said.
What wasn’t was leaving Milwaukee on Tuesday night, though Mozeliak said he did “kick those tires, literally.” The Cardinals learned results of their jailbreak tests around dinner time, and the team did explore hiring four buses to keep them physically distant and on the way back to St. Louis. They have a charter flight scheduled for Wednesday morning. And more tests. The team is expected to continue testing the traveling party daily for the immediate future.
Mozeliak suggested relief has replaced concern — and frustration.
“Right now, I think their energy is to pack their bags and head south,” Mozeliak said. He added: “All of us have to act as if we still have it. We have to be responsible as we go back to St. Louis. So that is something that we are going to preach and bang the tables hard on. It cannot be taken lightly.”