Cubs president Jed Hoyer sharply expressed his disappointment Thursday that his players have not reached the 85% coronavirus vaccination threshold that has relaxed restrictions for other major-league teams, saying it is putting the team at a competitive disadvantage.
“It’s disappointing to not be at 85% as a team,” Hoyer said in a news conference before Thursday’s game against the Nationals at Wrigley Field. “We’ve worked hard to get as many people vaccinated as possible. We’ve worked hard to try to convince or educate the people that have been reluctant. I think we’re at a place right now where I’m not going to give up hope that we can get there, but my level of optimism is waning, candidly.”
Players and coaches on teams that reach the 85% threshold can return to a greater level of normalcy with regard to day-to-day activities. They no longer have to wear masks in the dugout or bullpen and can dine at indoor and outdoor restaurants while on the road. But more importantly, vaccinated players who are asymptomatic do not have to be quarantined if they are determined to be a close contact of a person who has the coronavirus.
Q2: Where do you stand on the Cubs continuing to fall short of the 85% vaccinated threshold for players?— Chicago Sun-Times (@Suntimes) May 20, 2021
“It is disappointing, because there are conveniences that come with getting to 85% as a group,” Hoyer said, “just mask-wearing and dining and things like that that we would all like to have.
“But I also feel like there’s a real competitive advantage that we’re gonna miss. The contact-tracing thing is a big deal. And when you have a positive case, but the people around you have been vaccinated, that takes away that contact-tracing element to guys being out and by not getting the 85% we’re missing that. So it’s disappointing. I can’t say it any other way.”
Hoyer said he would not move players who did not comply, adding that “We are not a player away from being 85%,” he said.
Hoyer pointed to the Cubs series against the Brewers in Milwaukee in April as an indication of the impact. After coaches Chris Young and Craig Driver tested positive for the coronavirus, four players were put on the COVID-19 list — relievers Brandon Workman, Jason Adam and Dan Winkler and infielder Matt Duffy. And pitcher Kyle Hendricks was scratched from a start as a precaution after Hendricks came under the weather.
“Scratching Kyle before his start because he was congested and going through, when [bullpen coach] Chris Young and Driver had it and going through all of that — that’s a pretty horrible feeling. A pretty helpless feeling,” Hoyer said. “The fact that we aren’t able to eliminate that is disappointing. Injuries can be avoidable but sometimes they’re not and your season can get derailed when you have injuries and that’s part of this job. But I feel like this is one that can be avoided. And we’re not able to avoid it, in some ways.
“And I just want to be clear — there’s a lot of players that have gotten vaccinated. I commend them for it. This is not a blanket statement. But as an organization we have not been able to get the 85% and that does take away the ability to eliminate that as an anxiety.”
Cubs starter Jake Arrieta said last week he didn’t think the eased restrictions from hitting the 85% threshold are a big deal. “I don’t necessarily see that as a competitive advantage or disadvantage,” Arrieta said. “I know we do have a lot of guys vaccinated. We have not had any cases in the past month. So we’re doing OK as a group. And we’re being careful about where we go and who we’re around.”
Hoyer, while not wanting to get into a public debate with his pitcher, re-iterated his point in response.
“It’s irrefutable that … the more players are vaccinated … you can eliminate the contact tracing element of it — by definition that eliminates risk,” Hoyer said. “Eliminating risk is a competitive advantage.”
Heyward goes on IL
Outfielder Jason Heyward went on the 10-day injured list Thursday with a left hamstring strain.
Heyward, 31, left Wednesday night’s 4-3 loss to Washington in the fourth inning. He is batting .183 with four homers and 13 RBIs in 39 games.
“Hamstrings are always iffy, but seems to be on the milder side,” manager David Ross said.
The team recalled outfielder Nick Martini from Triple-A Iowa before its 5-2 victory over Washington. The 30-year-old Martini is beginning his second stint with the club this season.
Happ breaking out
Ian Happ continued his recent surge with two home runs and three RBI. After hitting .139 with one home run and one RBI in his first 25 games, Happ is hitting .393 (11-for-28) with five home runs, 10 RBI and a robust 1.450 OPS in his last seven games.
Reliever Justin Steele appeared to pay the price for failing to sacrifice in the sixth inning. After reaching first on a force out, Steele advanced to second and third on singles by Joc Pederson and Anthony Rizzo, then had to leave the game with hamstring tightness as he warmed up for the seventh inning.
Another Nico gem
Second baseman Nico Hoerner had a single, a walk and another dazzling defensive play — a diving stop on the outfield grass to throw out Josh Bell in the eighth inning. He’s hitting .345 (20-for-58) with a .426 on-base percentage.
“I’m amazed,” Ross said. “That one I thought was by him, and somehow it went in his glove. Pretty impressive play. He continues to wow with the glove, and he’s just an all-around great player.”
Contributing: Associated Press