Speaking with reporters for the first time since they were placed on the COVID-19 injured list last week, Orioles left-handed pitcher Keegan Akin and outfielder Anthony Santander didn’t detail what led to that designation and declined to say whether they have received the coronavirus vaccine.
As of Major League Baseball’s last public update in late June, 23 of 30 teams had reached the 85% benchmark of full vaccinations of players, coaches and other certain staff to have relaxed health and safety protocols. The Orioles crossed that threshold in May. During each home game, the team promotes the benefits of vaccination to its fans with a video featuring players John Means, Cedric Mullins, Cole Sulser and Trey Mancini — who, as a cancer survivor, is considered particularly at-risk to the virus’ effects — with the slogan “Take One for the Team. Get the Vaccine.”
“It’s kind of a personal question,” Akin said of his vaccination status on a Zoom call Thursday. “Not really comfortable answering that one right now.”
Santander echoed the statement on a call hours later.
“That’s a really personal question at this moment that I don’t feel comfortable answering right now,” Santander said in Spanish through team interpreter Ramón Alarcón.
Asked Friday about those comments, Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said the organization does “encourage that people out there get this vaccine.”
“It’s helping get our society and our world back to normal,” he said. “We’re over 85%. We’re proud of that. We’ve got banners all over the park encouraging our fans to do so. We know the medicine and the science behind it, and we think it’s something that people should do. When it comes to individual people or specifically Orioles employees, whether they’re players or scouts or ushers or whatever, I’m very protective of personal medical information, particularly with players, whether it’s about a topic like this or COVID or something like what’s happened to a couple of our guys last couple of years with some really serious illnesses, I’m just very reserved about discussing that because it’s a private matter.
“That said, we do encourage people to be educated and make the decision that they want to make.”
Akin and Santander were placed on the injured list without specific injuries before the Orioles’ July 21 series finale on the road against the Tampa Bay Rays. Akin, a rookie who has an 8.19 ERA on the year, was scheduled to start.
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said then the moves were made because the team was “following the [league’s] COVID protocols.” Asked about the circumstances that prompted him to be put on the IL, Akin said, “Just some stuff came up. Obviously, with MLB protocols, just would rather be safe than sorry with that stuff, so just had to follow those rules and go by those rules.”
“Something just came up,” Santander said. “I was following the protocols that the league established, and I had to leave for seven days.”
Players are not required to test positive for the disease to be put on the COVID-19 IL; they could be showing symptoms or have been a close contact of someone who did test positive. The Orioles, and now Akin and Santander, have not specified which of those situations led to the IL stints, which are still ongoing. Hyde said Wednesday both Akin and Santander have cleared MLB protocols, but the Orioles will wait to activate them given how little baseball activity they’ve been able to do over the past week.
Santander said he quarantined in Miami, doing band workouts to try to stay active before driving to Baltimore. Akin also said he drove back to Baltimore from Florida, spending much of the week throwing into a lacrosse net at a local park. Hyde said he was going to throw a bullpen session Wednesday, with Akin adding the club is giving him time to “get back on my feet” before his activation.
The Orioles’ No. 10 prospect entering the year according to Baseball America, Akin opened the season at their alternate training site after struggling with his command in spring training. He might have rejoined the club sooner if not for a kitchen incident leading to him requiring stitches on his left index finger. When he did join the team in mid-May, Akin initially worked out of the bullpen before pitching well in his first couple of starts. But in his previous seven outings, six of them starts, Akin has an 11.44 ERA, and opposing batters are hitting .379/.444/.653 against him.
“It’s just been a grind,” Akin said.
Santander, too, has struggled. A left ankle sprain cost him a month, and its effects have lingered since his return. Santander is batting .231/.280/.387 coming off an injury-shortened 2020 season in which he was voted Most Valuable Oriole. He missed much of that year’s summer training camp because he tested positive for COVID-19 during intake testing.
Hyde said Wednesday that it seemed Santander’s stint on the COVID-19 IL came right as he was beginning to feel fully healthy from the ankle injury.
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“That’s why I was disappointed,” Hyde said. “I felt like, right before that, the last few days, I thought he was running around differently. We saw more bat speed. His ankle started feeling better, and then this happened.”
Santander said he was going to try to see the situation as a positive in that it gave his ankle more time to heal.
“I think it was very beneficial for my ankle,” he said. “Definitely feel so much better now.”
While on the COVID-19 IL, Akin and Santander do not count as part of the Orioles’ 40-man roster. In their absence, Baltimore selected the contract of right-handed pitcher Conner Greene, bringing their 40-man roster to 39 players. To activate Akin and Santander, the Orioles would need to open at least one spot, possibly using a trade made before Friday’s 4 p.m. deadline to do so. Hyde noted Thursday that this is a “crowded week,” suggesting the Orioles will wait to see how the deadline impacts their roster before activating either.
As virus cases have started to see an uptick around the country, the same has occurred in the sport. The Washington Nationals’ game Wednesday against the Philadelphia Phillies was postponed to a Thursday doubleheader after four Nationals players, including star shortstop Trea Turner and reliever Daniel Hudson, and several coaches tested positive, with Nationals manager Dave Martinez saying all but one of the individuals that tested positive were vaccinated. The Phillies have also had a handful of players land on the COVID-19 IL.
Out of the All-Star break, several New York Yankees players tested positive, causing their first game of the second half against the Boston Red Sox to be postponed.