Spring training could be delayed for Double-A, Class A

Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald
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NEW YORK — Spring training could be delayed for Double-A and Class A players if major leaguers are not vaccinated for the novel coronavirus by the time big league practice is scheduled to start in mid-February.

Major League Baseball, which has taken over operation of the minors, gave notice to minor league teams and big league clubs on Monday.

“We are still evaluating many issues that affect both the major league and minor league schedules, including, most importantly, when it is likely that players and staff will be vaccinated,” Peter Woodfork, MLB’s senior vice president of minor league operations and development, wrote in a letter to big league clubs that was obtained by The Associated Press.

The letter was first reported by Baseball America.

“Assuming that a vaccine is not available to players and staff at the beginning of major league spring training, there is a strong possibility that minor league spring training will be delayed for players who otherwise would be assigned to Double-A, High-A, and Low-A because clubs have informed us that there is not sufficient space at spring training facilities for all of the players in an environment requiring strict physical distancing,” Woodwork wrote.

He said under that scenario, those minor leaguers would report to spring training after big leaguers and Triple-A players leave for opening day “unless it is necessary to utilize the alternate site arrangement at the beginning of the season” as MLB did for health reasons last year.

Woodfork wrote that MLB “will let minor league clubs know as soon as possible of any modifications to their facilities that are required in 2021 in the event we need to play prior to the vaccination of players. They in turn will let us know whether they desire to operate in the event that government restrictions prevent them from having fans, or significantly restrict the number of fans allowed in their ballparks.”

Woodfork said MLB will attempt to schedule as many minor league games as possible subject to health conditions.

“We do believe that by the second half of the 2021 season, the operation of the minor leagues should be much closer to normal than in the early part of the season,” he wrote. “While the current uncertainty about the vaccination timeline for our players and staff, and the state of COVID-19 in our country in the spring and early summer, makes it difficult to create a schedule at this time, we intend to begin the process and make adjustments as things become clearer.”

Schedules and league alignments are subject to COVID-19 conditions and clubs signing MLB’s license agreements for the minors.

Big league spring training remains on track to start on time in mid-February and opening day is set for April 1, but a final decision for an on-time start has not yet been made. As of now, no timetable has been set to vaccinate big leaguers.

Many players who start the season in Triple-A report for the start of big league spring training and then are optioned to the minors. Players in the lower levels of the minors usually report later in spring training.

Spring training was interrupted by the pandemic in mid-March last year, and the big league regular season was delayed until late July and shortened to 60 games. All 2020 minor league seasons were canceled.

Pujols has 2 more RBIs, Cardinals beat Pirates 8-7 in 10

Cincinnati Reds v St. Louis Cardinals
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PITTSBURGH – Albert Pujols drove in two more runs and the St. Louis Cardinals went on to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-7 in 10 innings Tuesday night.

Pujols hit a two-run single in the third inning to push his career total to 2,218 RBIs. That came a night after he broke a tie with Babe Ruth for second place on the career list. Hank Aaron holds the record with 2,287.

Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol then removed the 42-year-old Pujols at the end of the inning. St. Louis opens postseason play Friday when it hosts a best-of-three National League wild-card series.

Juan Yepez gave the Cardinals the win when he hit a tiebreaking single with one in the 10th inning off Chase De Jong (6-3) to score automatic runner Ben Deluzio.

“Tonight was interesting because you’re fairly scripted in who you want to use and who you don’t want to use and what you want tomorrow to look like so you can get ready for Friday,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. “It was a good one to still figure out a way to come out on top.”

The Cardinals threw out the potential tying run at home in the bottom of the 10th when automatic runner Kevin Newman tried to score from second base on Oneil Cruz‘s line single off the glove of first baseman Alec Burleson. The ball deflected to second baseman Brendon Donovan, who threw home to catcher Andrew Knizner.

The Pirates challenged the call, but it was upheld on video review.

“I thought we were going to get it overturned,” Newman said. “I just thought he didn’t tag me until he got higher up on the body.”

It was the Pirates’ 100th loss, the second year in a row they have reached that mark.

The Cardinals got two hits each from Donovan, Corey Dickerson, Knizner and Paul DeJong.

Cruz had three hits for the Pirates and Bryan Reynolds, Rodolfo Castro, Jack Suwinski, Ke'Bryan Hayes and Ji-Hwan Bae added two apiece. Miguel Andujar drove in two runs.

Chris Stratton (10-4) pitched two scoreless innings for the win.

“They weren’t the prettiest two innings I’ve ever pitched but I got a great play from the defense in the 10th inning to help me out,” Stratton said. “It was a good play all the way around.’

Pujols’ hit put the Cardinals ahead 3-1 but the Pirates answered with six runs in the bottom of the third. Andujar’s run-scoring double highlighted an inning that includes RBI singles by Castro, Suwinski, Ben Gamel and Bae.

The Cardinals then scored four runs in the seventh inning to tie the score at 7-all. Donovan hit an RBI single, Dickerson drove in two runs with a double and the tying run scored on a throwing error by Cruz, the rookie shortstop.

Both starting pitchers lasted just 2 2/3 innings. The Cardinals’ Dakota Hudson was rocked for seven runs and nine hits while the Pirates’ JT Brubaker allowed three runs on four hits.

Brubaker was activated from the injured list before the game. He had been out since Sept. 16 with right lat discomfort.

HELSLEY HURT

Reliever Ryan Helsley, the Cardinals’ closer, left in the eighth inning with a jammed right middle finger. Helsley was injured after catching a line drive by Bae and using his hands to brace himself while dodging a piece of a broken bat.

Helsley said he expects to be ready to pitch Friday.

“I don’t think there was anything super wrong with it,” Helsley said. `Just give it some rest and let it resolve itself.”

ROSTER MOVES

The Pirates optioned right-hander Roansy Contreras to Triple-A Indianapolis to clear a roster spot for Brubaker. They also recalled infielder/outfielder Tucapita Marcano from Indianapolis and optioned catcher Jose Godoy to the same club.

PIRATES AWARDS

Center fielder Bryan Reynolds was voted the winner of the Roberto Clemente Award, emblematic of the Pirates’ MVP, by the Pittsburgh chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Mitch Keller won the Steve Blass Award for best pitcher. Former infielder Michael Chavis was voted the Chuck Tanner Good Guy Award.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Cardinals: OF Tyler O'Neill (strained right hamstring) has been ruled out for the wild-card series but St. Louis is hopeful he can play in the NLDS round if it advances. . 3B Nolan Arenado (left quadriceps tightness) missed his second straight game but could play Wednesday.

UP NEXT

Cardinals: Have not decided on a starter for Wednesday, though Marmol said LHP Matthew Liberatore (2-1, 5.46) and RHP Jake Woodford (4-0, 2.33) are possibilities.

Pirates: RHP Johan Oviedo (4-3, 3.12), who was acquired from the Cardinals on Aug. 1, gets the start.