Pirates' Gregory Polanco tests positive for coronavirus; Joe Musgrove to pitch opener

PITTSBURGH -- Pitcher Joe Musgrove is ready for Opening Day. Right fielder Gregory Polanco and closer Keone Kela are decidedly not.

Pittsburgh Pirates manager Derek Shelton on Friday said Musgrove will be the starter for the opener at St. Louis on July 24. Meanwhile, Kela and Polanco will likely not be available due to health issues.

Kela, slated to be the team's closer, was placed on the injured list on Friday for an undisclosed reason. Polanco is out indefinitely after testing positive for COVID-19.

Polanco, the starting right fielder who hasn't practiced since Monday, gave the team permission to release his name. Shelton said the 28-year-old Polanco, who is the longest-tenured player on the roster, is doing well.

"He protected his teammates because he put himself in a conversation where he let us know through the protocols and the testing," Shelton said. "He was not around anybody else. And because of that, with getting a test and finding out that that he was positive, I think it speaks to the testament of everything that we've talked about of how good a teammate he is."

While Shelton didn't rule Polanco out for the opener, he must twice test negative for the novel coronavirus and then undergo a heart test and a physical before being cleared to return to the field to practice.

Guillermo Heredia figures to get the first crack at filling in for Polanco in right field.

Kela was set to return to the closer's role he held in Texas in the first half of 2018, when he recorded 24 saves before being sent to Pittsburgh at the trade deadline. Now the job will likely be spread between Kyle Crick, Nick Burdi and Richard Rodriguez among others.

One place that isn't a question mark for the Pirates is at the top of the rotation. Ace Jameson Taillon already was ruled out for the season after Tommy John surgery, and Chris Archer was also shut down. That left Musgrove to take the ball against the Cardinals.

The 27-year-old, acquired in a January 2018 trade that sent Gerrit Cole to Houston, has embraced his role as a leader for a largely anonymous rotation. He went 11-12 with a 4.44 ERA in 2019 and has become a leader for a group that could use one. He advocated the use of masks when summer camp opened and has aggressively embraced new pitching coach Oscar Marin's use of analytics.

While admitting he was smiling underneath his mask when Shelton told him the news, Musgrove also understands the circumstances are less than ideal with the league banning fans as it attempts to put together some version of a season amid a pandemic.

"It is going to be a pretty dull, boring Opening Day, but it is Opening Day nonetheless and really honored to get it, and I'm proud of myself and I put in a lot of work to get to this point," said Musgrove, who will also start an exhibition against Cleveland on Saturday night. "If I'm on other teams, I might not be the Opening Day guy, but I'm here right now. This is the reality of it, and I'm ready to take the role."