KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City Royals outfielder Hunter Dozier has tested positive for COVID-19 and was placed on the injured list before the club played its final exhibition game against the Cardinals in St. Louis on Wednesday.
The 28-year-old is coming off a breakthrough season in which he hit 26 homers, tied for the American League lead in triples and had 84 RBIs. He is expected to play a big role for the Royals during their abbreviated 60-game season, which begins against the Indians on Friday night in Cleveland.
“I’m disappointed to say the least,” Dozier said. “I have been hit with a couple of symptoms that go with the virus, so I need to follow our medical team’s direction, get well and then work on getting back on the field. It’s disheartening because I felt things were going well on the field and I have a good feeling about the ball club we have.
“To have to watch for whatever period of time that I’m out is going to painful.”
Painful for the Royals, too.
They still have catcher Cam Gallagher, first baseman Ryan O’Hearn, catching prospect Nick Dini and relief pitcher Daniel Tillo on the injured list with COVID-19. All-Star catcher Salvador Pérez, starters Brad Keller and Jakob Junis, and third baseman Matt Reynolds tested positive but have been cleared to return.
The startling number of positive tests represents about 10% of those made public by players and teams.
“We spoke last night and he was asymptomatic. Today he started to have a couple more things kick up,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “He’s sad. He’s frustrated as well. A couple of these guys — they’re not going to shy away — they’re just angry. They worked so hard to get themselves ready and this thing comes along, even when they’ve been so careful, going to crazy extents to wear masks, to wash hands, to do everything. And it still snuck up on them.”
The positive test leaves Matheny with another hole to fill in his starting lineup.
Ryan McBroom, who made his big league debut last season, will likely start at first base with O’Hearn sidelined by the virus. Alex Gordon, Whit Merrifield and Jorge Soler are the top three outfielders with Dozier out, while designated hitter could be filled by Bubba Starling, Erick Mejia or Franchy Cordero, who was just acquired in a trade with San Diego.
The starting rotation is also in flux with Keller and Junis trying to work their way into shape. Danny Duffy will start opening day against Cleveland and rookie Brady Singer will make his big league debut on Saturday. But Matheny said he was still sorting things out after that, and the health of his staff will be a big part of his decision-making process.
“These kinds of things are frustrating when you look at the brevity of a major league career and compound it with the brevity of a major league season,” said Matheny, who joked about being terrified any time he gets a text message these days. “A lot of them are looking at this positively but they’re also looking at it like it’s out of their hands.”
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