A week where the Orioles haven’t been able to escape the impact of the COVID-19 virus continued in that vein Friday when high-risk young pitcher Kohl Stewart, who has Type 1 Diabetes, opted-out of the season. Stewart’s departure washed out some of the relief that came when first baseman Chris Davis returned to the team after a coronavirus scare that brought the threat of the virus back into their midst for the first time since the beginning of summer camp.
Stewart, the 25-year-old former top pick of the Minnesota Twins who was the only pitcher the Orioles signed to a free agent contract this offseason, asked to have more conversations with the team this week, manager Brandon Hyde said. That coincided with the outbreak in the Miami Marlins’ clubhouse that paused the season for them and the Philadelphia Phillies, plus Davis’ precautionary absence and on Friday positive tests in the St. Louis Cardinals clubhouse that canceled their game in Milwaukee.
“For the time being, I have decided to pause my participation in the 2020 season,” Stewart said in a statement. “My elevated risk of serious complications of COVID-19 due to Type 1 diabetes continues to be of great concern. I am grateful to the organization, as well as my coaches and teammates, for their incredible support.”
Manager Brandon Hyde said: “We’ve had a lot of discussions the last few days. I’m going to keep those conversations private. That’s between me and him. I just wanted him to know that I’m going to support any decision he makes. I know the organization is also. It’s a personal decision, but I was going to be fully supportive in whatever he decided to do.”
Stewart didn’t appear in a game for the Orioles this year, though the organization was intrigued with the raw talent that made him the No. 4 overall pick in the 2013 MLB draft by the Twins. They believed work on keeping him in the strike zone and alterations to his pitch mix could help him deliver on his potential for their rebuilding team.
Instead, he’s replaced on the roster by right-hander Thomas Eshelman, who will fill the depth starter/long relief role Stewart seemed to be in.
“It’s about him the person right now for me,” Hyde said. “He made this decision today. I’m hoping I get to see him pitch some time down the road, but for right now, this is the decision that he made.”
The Orioles placed Stewart on the injured list, meaning that he will continue to get his salary and accrue service time, a benefit given to players who decide not to play because they are high risk. His decision to leave the team in this tumultuous week for baseball underscores the challenges in staging a baseball season of full travel the way MLB is attempting.
There are myriad health and safety protocols in place, and those are only getting stricter as the number of teams whose seasons have been impacted by the virus grows. One of them is a home screening for symptoms, and Davis wasn’t with the Orioles on Wednesday and Thursday because of symptoms that he now believes were from “a little sinus infection.”
“Having to go through everything we’ve had to go through on an everyday basis with the checkups, it raised some red flags,” Davis said Friday.
Hyde said: “It just sounds like he was a little under the weather and for precautionary reasons, and the world we’re living in right now, we wanted to do the responsible thing and make sure that we’re following protocol.”
The protocols that kept Davis away from the team for two days have been tightened, and Davis said he believes this was an instance of them working to keep players safe.
“It’s new to everybody, and it’s obviously something that we’re kind of having to take in stride and kind of having to learn on the go,” Davis said. “I think that we’re doing it the right way. I think we’re going about it the right way. In my opinion, I think it’s better to be more cautious than it is more careless, especially with how quickly this can spread and how close we are together, how much we are together throughout the course of our day. It’s probably better to be cautious.”
Davis spoke Tuesday night after the team’s workout at Camden Yards about how eager they were to play the New York Yankees the next day, a symptom of the Marlins’ outbreak that caused the schedules of several teams to be shuffled. The Orioles were bystanders in that, but Davis reiterated his desire to play and take extra safety precautions on the field while doing so.
The next day, however, he wasn’t around. Hyde didn’t address his absence, as is team policy for COVID-19 related absences.
He returned once it was clear that the symptoms he had didn’t come with positive tests for COVID-19.
“I tested negative at least eight times just in the past few days,” he said. “I didn’t have a fever. My temperature was a little bit higher than normal, but like I said, it was really more of just my sinuses kind of flared up. Usually, I go through this a few times during the season, especially when you start traveling and going to different climates. Unfortunately, I just had to go through the protocol and had to go through the steps to make sure that everything was OK. And I was. I did not ever feel at any time like I had any symptoms. Didn’t feel like there was anything going on. I felt like the tests were just confirmation of that. "
Around the horn
Despite returning to the team, Davis wasn’t in the lineup Friday. He and Hyde said he was available off the bench. ... Shortstop José Iglesias was out a second straight day with quadriceps soreness, though Hyde said he was improving. ... Left-hander Tommy Milone will start Sunday against the Tampa Bay Rays.
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