A COVID-19 outbreak affecting more than a third of the Washington Nationals' roster caused the postponement of the 2019 World Series champions' season-opening three-game series against the visiting New York Mets.
Four of Washington's players have tested positive for the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, and another five were quarantining after contact tracing determined they might have been exposed, general manager Mike Rizzo said Friday in a video call with reporters.
“We’re in crisis management mode,” Rizzo said.
His team is also in a holding pattern, uncertain when it actually will be allowed to play a game — or even hold workouts.
After games against the Mets scheduled for Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at Nationals Park were scratched, the next possible contest for Washington would be at home against the NL East champion Atlanta Braves on Monday.
“Depending on what happens in the next day or so, we’ll be in contact with MLB, and we’ll make the decision on whether we’re playing or not,” Rizzo said. "But we are, as of right now, preparing to play Monday.”
That would require calling up several players who did not make the cut at the end of spring training and are now at the Nationals' training site in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
“Our depth is going to have to shine,” the GM said.
Rizzo has not identified any of the players involved in the outbreak — and said Friday he would not.
“The hardest part is probably what they’re going through right now. They still probably have some unknown: Is it going to keep going on? ... You don’t know when you’re going to play. You don’t know what’s going to happen. You’re in quarantine. You can’t do anything,” said Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly, whose team put 17 players on the injured list because of the coronavirus and was idle for more than a week early in the truncated 2020 season but wound up reaching the playoffs.
“That uncertainty is the hardest part," Mattingly said. "Trying to stay ready is a tough part. You try to think about doing that safely for guys when you come back. This first week is probably going to be the toughest time.”
The Nationals did not report a single positive COVID-19 test throughout their six-week spring training camp that ended at the start of this week. The team flew from Florida to Washington on Monday; the first positive of the current outbreak came from testing that day.
Other positives arose from testing Wednesday.
“A virus is a virus. It’s very contagious. So I think it could happen in many, many different ways. I don’t think it’s a breach of protocol or inadequate protocols,” Rizzo said. “But it’s something that happened. We’re going to try to find out how it happened and investigate it and see if we can stop it from happening again.”
One of Washington’s players had a fever, according to Rizzo, but others involved were not showing symptoms.
He is hoping players will be allowed to practice in small, staggered groups at Nationals Park beginning Saturday.
“You can’t just go from a dead stop in this postponement to ramping up to play the Atlanta Braves and not expect (there) to be injuries,” Rizzo said.
“But these other players, it’s just hard to have them sitting and playing video games or whatever for two or three days and then to ramp up again. To me, it’s a safety issue and we’ve got to get these guys’ blood flowing,” he said. “We’ve got to get them moving around so they don’t go into the season going from zero to 100 miles an hour without preparation for the last couple of days.”
Major League Baseball and the players’ union issued a testing update Friday, saying there were four new positive tests — three players and one staff member — from the 14,354 tests administered over the past week across all of the sport, a 0.03% rate.
That presumably does not include Washington's fourth positive player. Rizzo originally designated that person as a “likely positive” on Thursday, before updating that Friday to say the result was considered a positive.
There is also one Nationals staff member who was put in quarantine after contact tracing.
“It’s unfortunate that they’re going through kind of what we went through last year, but this virus isn’t going away,” said Marlins first baseman and outfielder Garrett Cooper, one of Miami's players who got sick in 2020. “One slip-up with COVID, it can take down a whole team.”
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