Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes cleared to rejoin team after potentially false positive COVID-19 test

After initially testing positive for COVID-19 over the weekend, Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes — as well as the eight people who were in close contact with him — have been cleared to return to action, per MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo.

The reason being that Barnes “has had several COVID-19 tests come back negative since the initial positive result on Saturday,” according to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier.

In addition to the negative tests, Barnes has not shown any symptoms, either. With both of these conditions being met, the Joint MLB-MLBPA COVID-19 Committee felt comfortable clearing the 30-year-old right-hander to return to baseball activities.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora confirmed as much following his team’s 4-0 victory over the Braves on Monday afternoon, though he did not get into the specifics on how Barnes was cleared so soon after receiving a positive test.

“He got cleared by the committee,” Cora said via Zoom. “I don’t know about the details. I’m just happy he’s going to be back with us and we’re going to be at full strength in a few days.”

Barnes testing positive for COVID-19 this past Friday led to eight other members of the organization — including pitchers Matt Andriese, Kevin McCarthy, Garrett Richards and Garrett Whitlock — being sent home as well due to contact tracing protocols.

Now that Barnes, who is the only one on the Red Sox to have tested positive thus far, has been cleared to return, so have the others, leaving Cora to feel more at ease with things compared to just a few days ago.

“Having the whole crew together is beneficial, obviously,” he said. “It was very fast the first day (Saturday), in the early part. It seems like it slowed down right away when we got on that bus to go to Bradenton. The guys did a good job staying the course and doing their work. There were no distractions and then we got good news.”

Barnes will finish the Grapefruit League campaign having allowed no runs on two hits and three walks over five relief appearances spanning 5 1/3 total innings of work.

The UCONN product had been competing with fellow righty reliever Adam Ottavino for the Sox’ closer job, while Richards slotted to pitch in this weekend’s opening series against the Orioles and Andriese and Whitlock were to begin the season in the bullpen.

Because of the time they spent away from the team while quarantining, though, it’s unclear if the likes of Barnes, Richards, Andriese, and Whitlock will be ready for Opening Day on Thursday.

“It’s too soon to make a decision, it’s too soon to know where they’re at,” said Cora. “I’m just happy they’re going to be with us. That’s the most important thing.”

Long story short, it looks like Barnes’ COVID-19 test from over the weekend was a false positive.

UPDATE: For clarity’s sake, I’m including this from The Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham, who tweeted earlier Monday afternoon that “is not regarded as a false positive but was deemed non-infectious.”

(Picture of Matt Barnes: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

What pitching in front of fans again meant for Red Sox prospect Durbin Feltman

Red Sox pitching prospect Durbin Feltman made his first appearance of the spring against the Orioles in Sarasota on Thursday afternoon.

Working in relief of fellow right-hander Tanner Houck, Feltman came on in the bottom half of the third inning with two outs to get and the bases loaded in what was at the time a one-run game in favor of Boston.

The 23-year-old managed to limit the damage, as he allowed just one inherited runner to score on a sacrifice fly before getting Ramon Urias to ground out to second to retire the side.

For Feltman, who made his 2021 Grapefruit League debut in front of approximately 1,700 spectators at Ed Smith Stadium, it was his first time pitching with fans in the stands since August 2019.

“It was just good to be out there in front of fans,” Feltman told BloggingtheRedSox.com Thursday night. “It brings back the atmosphere of the game and I couldn’t be happier to have people in the stands no matter the capacity. It causes you to have to lock in more during the game, which I think in turn helps you perform better. I love it.”

One of 30-plus non-roster invitees currently at big-league camp for the Red Sox, Feltman should find his way into more games between now and the end of the month.

Boston selected the flame-throwing righty in the third-round of the 2018 amateur draft out of Texas Christian University. He proceeded to post a 1.93 ERA over 22 relief appearances and 23 1/3 innings pitched between three different levels (short-season Lowell, Class-A Greenville, High-A Salem) in his inaugural season as a pro.

Feltman’s first full professional campaign, however, was a different story. The young reliever struggled to the tune of a 5.26 ERA and 5.02 FIP in 43 appearances and 51 1/3 innings of work out of the bullpen for Double-A Portland in 2019.

The inconsistencies Feltman displayed with the Sea Dogs in ’19 likely worked against him when the Red Sox were deciding who to include in their 60-man player pool the following summer after the 2020 minor-league season was cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

From the middle of July through the end of September, they had the opportunity to invite Feltman to their alternate training site in Pawtucket, but did not take it.

That, in turn, motivated the Texas native as he made preparations to participate in the team’s fall instructional league in Fort Myers.

“I came in there with a chip on my shoulder and was like ‘Hey, this is what you missed out on at the alternate site,’” Feltman said back in December. “Hopefully I showed enough, I felt like I did. And I’m carrying that into 2021 as well.”

Feltman did indeed show enough at instructs this past fall to get an invite to major-league camp this spring after not receiving one a year ago.

The 6-foot, 208 pounder is currently regarded by SoxProspects.com as the No. 30 prospect in Boston’s farm system. He is projected to begin the year at the club’s alternate training site in Worcester after the start of the Triple-A season was recently pushed back to May.

2021 could prove to be a pivotal year for Feltman simply because he can become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft for the first time in his career this December. The Red Sox would need to add the former Horned Frog to their 40-man roster before November 20 in order to prevent that from happening.

“Obviously, I don’t want to have to go through the Rule 5 Draft,” he said. “Because if you’ve been in the big-leagues you’re not getting Rule 5 drafted.”

With that thought in mind, it would appear that Feltman, who turns 24 next month, is shooting to make his major-league debut — or at the very least be added to the Sox’ 40-man roster — at some point this season. He has plenty of time to prove that he belongs.

(Picture of Durbin Feltman: Zachary Roy/Getty Images)

Red Sox release revised Grapefruit League schedule

The Red Sox were originally slated to open Grapefruit League play against the Pirates on February 27, but their spring training schedule has since been revised.

Per a team release, the Sox will now kick off their slate of exhibition games on February 28 against the Twins at Hammond Stadium, and instead of playing just about every other Grapefruit League team, they will only be playing the Twins, Braves, Orioles, Pirates and Rays.

That being the case because all five of those teams’ spring training complexes are located within close proximity to JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, and “to reflect the recommendations suggested by medical experts and infectious disease specialists, Major League Baseball has regionalized the matchups between teams to limit travel.”

By the time spring training comes to an end in late March, the Red Sox will have hopefully played 29 games in a span of 31 days, though the rules for those games will be quite relaxed as part of MLB’s health and safety protocols related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As noted by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo, games between February 27 and March 13 can be played as five- or seven-inning games, as long as the managers agree, while games on or after March 4 will be scheduled as nine innings but managers can agree to shorten them to seven if they so choose.

In total, Boston is scheduled to play 15 of its Grapefruit League contests at JetBlue Park and 14 of them on the road in Bradenton, Fort Myers, North Port, Port Charlotte, and Sarasota.

The team plans on having fans in the stands for home games, though only at a limited capacity to allow for proper social distancing measures. From the aforementioned release:

“The Red Sox will implement appropriate physical distancing and safety protocols that would allow fans to return in a limited capacity for 2021 Spring Training exhibition games by operating JetBlue Park at approximately 24 percent of its normal capacity. All tickets will be sold in physically distanced ‘pods’ comprised primarily of 2-4 seats that will allow for at least six feet between groups. Season Ticket Holders will be offered the first opportunity to attend exhibition games and additional tickets may go on sale to the general public depending on availability. All day games at JetBlue Park will start at 1:05 p.m., and all night games will start at 6:05 p.m.”

For the Red Sox’ full 2021 spring training and regular season schedule, click here.

(Picture of JetBlue Park: Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Matt Barnes on challenges 2021 season could present: ‘Guys know exactly what to expect. That adjustment period of a pandemic is over’

It goes without saying that the 2020 Major League Baseball was unlike any in the sport’s history on account of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in the United States

Limited to just 60 regular season games with no fans in the stands and plenty of health and safety protocols, players opting out, outbreak scares, and a postseason bubble, the 2020 season being completed was no sure thing.

The season did end on schedule, however, and nearly six months later, players are once again preparing to embark on another campaign that will surely be affected by the pandemic one way or the other.

This time around, though, the players at least have some familiarity with the coronavirus and the protocols it has created working in their favor. That was not the case at all last summer.

“I think one of the hard things about last year was there was so much uncertainty with the pandemic,” Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes told WEEI’s Will Flemming during the team’s live Truck Day stream earlier Monday afternoon. “Going into the season this year, guys know exactly what to expect. That adjustment period of a pandemic is over. Guys are anxious. Guys are excited.”

The Red Sox are slated to begin spring training next week, with pitchers and catchers reporting to the JetBlue Park complex on February 17 and full squad workouts starting on February.

Among the players the 30-year-old Barnes has seen so far are Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi, Darwinzon Hernandez, Martin Perez, and Nick Pivetta.

Boston’s first Grapefruit League game will come against the Pirates in Fort Myers on February 27. Fans will be allowed to attend games at JetBlue, but the ballpark will only be operating at 24% capacity to allow for proper social distancing measures.

Even with those limits in mind, having fans in the stands should serve as a dose of normalcy for players such as Barnes, who experienced the entirety of the 2020 season in empty ballparks — including Fenway Park — since the Red Sox did not make it to the postseason.

“Fenway’s a special place to play, it really is,” said Barnes. “From just getting to go out to Fenway Park, where so many greats have had the opportunity to play and win world championships… When you see it empty, it’s just different. It’s just not the same. One of the things that gives us an edge at home is our fans and their ability to be loud and make it an intimidating place to play for opposing teams. I’m hoping that we can get as many fans as we can safely this year. I don’t know what the plan is for that, but the fans are definitely missed. It’s not the same playing at Fenway without them.”

While the veteran right-hander may not know what the plan is for having fans in the stands at Fenway in 2021, Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy shed some light on that topic during a virtual town hall event last week.

“We’d love to host fans if the health and safety experts up here and the government officials say it’s okay,” Kennedy told NESN’s Tom Caron this past Thursday. “We have a plan to host fans in a socially distanced environment with all sorts of requirements for masks and hand sanitizing, things like that. We’ve seen around the country, it works, at different venues. We’re hoping to have that but we have not engaged with the state of Massachusetts or the city of Boston… It’s our sincere hope to have fans back at Fenway as early as Opening Day. We’re cautiously optimistic, but again, that is not our decision.”

That decision, as it turns out, is up to the medical community, health experts, and local city and state officials, Kennedy said.

(Picture of Matt Barnes: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Red Sox Held Team Meeting Prior to Sunday’s Loss to Yankees

The Red Sox dropped their seventh consecutive game in a 4-2 loss to the Yankees on Sunday night, but before the game even started, a team meeting was held earlier this weekend.

In the meeting, which was called for by Red Sox leadership and held at an outdoor area at the team hotel, Kevin Pillar said the goal was to try to come together as one cohesive unit in the midst of a disastrous 6-16 start to the 2020 season.

“We got together. We talked about some things,” Pillar said during his postgame media availability via Zoom Sunday night. “We’ve got to to stop feeling sorry for ourselves. We’ve got good leadership on this team. They called for [a meeting]. This season is going to happen whether we want it to happen or not. We’ve got 30-some-odd games. A lot can change.”

One of the struggles in organizing this meeting was finding the right venue to have it in. With proper social distancing protocols needing to be followed while the United States is dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, that was not the simplest thing to do. And that lack of intimacy has also had an effect on players’ abilities to jell so far this year.

“Especially for us, with the configurations we have at Fenway — not having the locker room dynamic — it’s been extremely difficult to get on the same page with a lot of people,” Pillar added. “We’ve got to find ways to stay together and find ways to make this fun.”

Currently on pace to win fewer than 17 games by the end of the season, the Red Sox certainly do not look like a team that has had a ton of fun on the field to this point. The procedures in place because of the aforementioned pandemic likely do not help that cause, which is kind of what Pillar alluded to on Sunday.

“Baseball is so difficult to begin with,” said the veteran outfielder. “When you have any sort of external or outside factor that takes away from the task at hand it makes it even more difficult.”

Pillar is a veteran of eight major-league seasons. From Toronto, to San Francisco, and now Boston, the 31-year-old has presumably been part of many team or player-only meetings in his day.

In this particular meeting held by Boston at the Lotte New York Palace in Manhattan, though, Pillar said “quite a few players talk” and the team “just wanted to open the floor up to everyone.”

What was specifically said in the Sox’ team meeting will probably never be fully disclosed to the general public, but Pillar’s closing statement to reporters on Sunday was quite intuitive.

“We’re our best teachers,” he said. “When things go wrong we lean on each other.”

 

Red Sox Announce Schedule Changes for August and September

The remainder of the Red Sox’ 2020 schedule got shaken up a little bit by Major League Baseball on Thursday in order to accommodate other clubs who have been affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the changes, first pitch against the Phillies at Fenway Park on August 19 has been moved up to 1:35 p.m. eastern time, while a double-header against the Phis will now be played at Citizens Bank Park on September 8. On top of that, in addition to now having off-days on September 9 and 14, the Sox will wrap up a three-game series against the Marlins in Miami on September 17 rather than September 16.

Originally, first pitch against the Phillies on August 19 was scheduled for 7:30 p.m. eastern time, and a two-game series in Philadelphia was scheduled for September 8-9 while that series against the Marlins in Miami was slated to conclude on September 16.

As the tweet above points out, traditional double-headers this season will persist of two seven-inning games, something new for 2020.

If all goes according to plan, the Red Sox will hopefully still be able to get in a full 60 games this year. Of course, the threat of more teams other than the Marlins, Phillies, or Cardinals experiencing coronavirus outbreaks is still as prevalent as ever.

Red Sox Top Prospect Bobby Dalbec Joins Club’s Taxi Squad in Tampa Bay for Series Against Rays

Top prospect Bobby Dalbec has joined the Red Sox for the final leg of their seven-game road trip in Tampa Bay this week, although the 25-year-old will be part of the club’s taxi squad, not their active roster, according to ABC6’s Ian Steele and The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier.

This news comes as Dalbec was not present at the Sox’ alternate training site in Pawtucket on Monday, as he was likely on a flight to St. Petersburg instead.

Regarded by MLB Pipeline as Boston’s No. 3 prospect, the 6-foot-4, 227 lb. corner infielder was cleared to return to baseball activities last month after a bout with COVID-19 in which he never experienced any symptoms. He was added to the Sox’ 60-man player pool on July 17 and unlike Darwinzon Hernandez, Eduardo Rodriguez, or Josh Taylor, avoided a stint on the injured list.

Originally taken by the Sox in the fourth round of the 2016 amateur draft out of The University of Arizona, Dalbec, a native of Washington state, has emerged as one of the top power-hitting prospects in the organization. Just last season, he slugged 27 home runs in 135 total games between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket.

Already a member of Boston’s 40-man roster, Dalbec will not accrue any service time while he is “up” with the club’s taxi squad, but as was the case last September, the right-handed hitter will be able to familiarize himself with the big-league environment once more.

He’ll have to wait a little bit longer to make his major-league debut, but I would have to think Dalbec’s time is coming relatively soon.

Red Sox’ Josh Taylor Threw Sock to Simulate Weight of Baseball While Self-Isolating in Boston Hotel Room

As he works his way back from a bout with COVID-19, Red Sox left-hander Josh Taylor is just happy to be back throwing on an actual feel again.

After testing positive for the coronavirus during the club’s Summer Camp intake screening period last month, the 27-year-old had to self-isolate in a Boston hotel room for two weeks with virtually no physical contact from the outside world. The only time Taylor could open his door was to pick up the meals that were left for him on the hallway floor.

Because he was not allowed to go outside while in quarantine, Taylor had to get creative in staying in shape for whenever he would be able to return to the mound. He did that by using his own laundry.

“You come in ready to go,” Taylor said when recalling what went down in July via a Zoom call on Monday. “You’re ready to throw right away. Having to take the two weeks off and trying to find a way to keep yourself ready – I was throwing into a sock in the hotel room.”

Since that time, the Arizona native has been cleared to return to baseball activities and has been working out at the Red Sox’ alternate training site in Pawtucket.

There, as noted by The Providence Journal’s Bill Koch, Taylor ‘has thrown a pair of live batting practice sessions and is scheduled for one simulated inning on Tuesday.’ He is very much looking forward to that.

“Throwing bullpens you don’t get the sights,” said the southpaw. “You don’t get the hitter to read. I feel really good about how my stuff is coming out right now.”

Coming off a rookie campaign in which he posted a 3.11 ERA and .638 OPS against over 51 appearances and 46 1/3 innings pitched as a reliever in 2019, Taylor emerged as a dangerous left-handed weapon out of the Red Sox bullpen.

Originally acquired by Boston as the player to be named later in a trade with the Diamondbacks that sent Deven Marrero to Arizona, Taylor is itching to get back to the majors and prove he belongs once more.

“I know my time is going to come,” he said. “And hopefully sooner rather than later I’ll be up there to help the team.”

In the meantime, Taylor will continue to work out at McCoy Stadium with the other players in the Sox’ roster pool. He was initially placed on the 10-day injured list on July 14, so there shouldn’t be any problem activating him when that time comes.

Myocarditis Shuts Down Red Sox’ Eduardo Rodriguez for Remainder of 2020 Season

Red Sox left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez will not pitch this season, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom announced Saturday.

The announcement comes as Rodriguez has been dealing with myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle, while recovering from COVID-19, which the 27-year-old tested positive for while at home in Miami early last month.

Although mild, the myocarditis Rodriguez is dealing with is still present, resulting in him being shut down for the remainder of 2020. As noted by The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier, “the prognosis hasn’t changed but the timetable has.”

Bloom said as much when speaking with reporters Saturday, stating that, “While we remain very optimistic he will make a full recovery, due to the fact that it is persistent, and the amount of care we need to take with this, he’s not going to be able to come back and pitch this year.”

Again, the Sox fully expect Rodriguez to recover from this seeing how the myocarditis has not damaged the Venezuela native’s heart “and is not expected to impact him over the long-term,” That being said, “The recovery should be complete. It’s just a question of time.”

Heading into the season, Rodriguez was slated to be Boston’s No. 1 starter with Chris Sale going down for the year due to Tommy John surgery and David Price getting dealt to the Dodgers.

Even when the idea of Rodriguez starting on Opening Day against the Orioles last month was thrown out the window due to his bout with COVID-19, it still appeared likely that the southpaw would be a welcome addition to the Sox’ rotation sometime later in the season.

Now, the Red Sox will have to endure as they have for the first week of the 2020 campaign. That being without their best left-handed starter.

“It certainly makes the mountain a little bit higher,” Bloom said in regards to being without Rodriguez for the remainder of the season. He also mentioned the fact that the Sox are ‘monitoring the market and also working with pitchers in Pawtucket.’

While the Red Sox scour the market for more pitching, here’s to wishing Eduardo Rodriguez the best and hoping he undergoes a full recovery so that he is all systems go in 2021.

Darwinzon Hernandez Could Start Games for Red Sox Again by End of 2020 Season, Ron Roenicke Says

The idea that Darwinzon Hernandez could once again start for the Red Sox has been out there ever since the left-hander was recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket for good last July.

Hernandez made his first career major-league start against the Rangers last June at Fenway Park, but never again made an appearance as a starter at the big-league level for the rest of the season.

Instead, as previously mentioned, the now-23-year-old was called up for good in July and proved to be quite effective out of the bullpen for the Red Sox, posting a 4.32 ERA, a .693 OPS against, and a 3.33 xFIP over 27 relief outings and 25 innings of work.

Still, despite that success, the Sox view Hernandez as a starter in the long run. At least, that’s what manager Ron Roenicke said on his weekly segment with WEEI’s Ordway, Merloni, and Fauria on Wednesday.

“Eventually, we think this guy could end up being a starter,” said Roenicke in regards to Hernandez’s future. “Who knows? Maybe he’s starting games by the end of the year.”

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves here, it is worth mentioning that Hernandez is still technically recovering from a bout with COVID-19, which he tested positive for while at home in Venezuela earlier this month.

Since that time, Hernandez reported back to the Red Sox in Boston in last week and has been working out at the club’s alternate training site in Pawtucket in the meantime while he’s on the 10-day injured list.

At McCoy Stadium, the flame-throwing southpaw is set to throw a live batting practice session on Wednesday, then he’ll throw another one on Saturday before preparing for a simulated game this coming Monday, according to Roenicke.

From there, the Red Sox will evaluate where things stand with him as well as fellow left-hander Josh Taylor before taking any further action.

The most important thing here, particularly in Hernandez’s case, is to build up his workload so he can get stretched out in order to handle two to three innings at a time. That way, he could be more prepared to start at some point this season if that’s the direction the Red Sox decide to go.