Max Scherzer threw a 65-pitch simulated game on the first day of Spring Training 2.0, or the Washington Nationals’ Summer Camp, as the team is calling the restart of the ramp up to an MLB season that they and the rest of Major League Baseball will try to conduct amidst the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
In just about three weeks, they’re planning to be playing games in empty stadiums around the country, with no fans in attendance, social distancing, no spitting (seeds or tobacco or just, you know, in general), no high-fives, or hugs, or dugout dances after home runs.
It’s sure going to be different.
Things were a little different for everyone who showed up at Nationals Park today, with their health protocols to follow, after tests to take to make sure everyone is healthy and ready to start the work of preparing to play a 60-game season while the coronavirus is still spreading around the country (and world).
“It’s been awesome to see all the guys,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez said of arriving at the park for today’s workouts when he spoke to the media.
“We’re just through the first part of our Spring Training session, we’re getting ready to go see the position players right now, after we talk. But seeing all the pitchers back together, the catchers, it’s been good. We’ve had some great conversations so far, but things are a little different. Things are going to be a little different. I explained it to them. But we’re going to get it done and go day-by-day.”
Already several players (Ryan Zimmerman, Joe Ross, and — Martinez announced — catcher Welington Castillo) have opted out of participating in the 2020 campaign, but as GM Mike Rizzo said today, he thinks the decisions they made were courageous ones.
“I didn’t talk to Welington,” Rizzo said. “He spoke to Davey and one of our assistant GMs.
“Had a long conversation with Zim. You know, these are tough decisions. Kind of courageous decisions in my mind. The easy path is just trying to grind it out and take your chances. But these two guys, Joe and Zim, felt that it wasn’t worth the risk. We support both of them. These decisions were tough for them.
“We certainly did not try to talk them out of it in any way, shape, or form. But supported them greatly and admire them for it, because it’s a tough decision.”
“I talked to [Castillo],” Martinez explained, “and he decided he wasn’t going to come, so but he’s got two little kids, his wife in the Dominican.
“I don’t hold anything against those guys. They have family. I know Zim, I love him to death, Joe is a big part of this organization, they all are.
“They chose to opt out and we have guys that are here that we’ve got to focus on right now to get them ready for the 2020 season.”
For those who have decided (as of now) to take part in the 60-game (66-day) season, it all got started over again this afternoon, at least for the players who arrived on Wednesday to get tested and then quarantined themselves for 48 hours while they waited for the test results to come back.
“I talked to a lot of guys individually, they came in — a lot of guys look good, really good,” Martinez said.
“Throwing the ball well. Watched Will Harris throw a bullpen today, threw the ball really well. [Stephen] Strasburg looked good.
“Scherzer threw two innings to hitters. He threw a total of 65 pitches. He looked great. So these guys are here and they’re ready. They understand what we’re trying to do.
“They understand that we have to do it quickly. It’s not something that you build up gradually. I mean, we’ve got to come out and we’ve got to be ready to go.”
“The players I’ve seen today looked very good,” Rizzo added. “They looked well on their way to getting ready in the allotted time that we have for Spring Training and to start the season strong, so tip of the hat goes to Davey and the coaches, who stayed on the players. We stayed in constant contact with all of the players that were considered in our 60-man roster.
“We had probably touched base with 65-70 players throughout this break that we had from the stop of Spring Training to the beginning of Spring Training [2.0] today. So they were in constant contact, and I think that shows the competitiveness, and the readiness of this team and the commitment they have to try to win this year, because they worked extremely hard when a lot of the people thought maybe we wouldn’t play. So they kept in shape and it looks like when the bell rang today the players that I saw were in really good condition.
“Hopefully that goes to tomorrow when we see the rest of the players and those guys that took the test late.”
But how, the manager and GM were asked, safe do they feel, with tests conducted, all of the protocols in place, and everyone back together?
And do they think MLB will be able to pull it off?
“Right now, we got here and everybody is following protocol, so it’s been good. Been tested a couple times already,” Martinez said after spending his time off on his farm in Tennessee.
“Got tested after the first day we came in, we spent 48 hours isolated, didn’t leave my condo, waiting for my test results to come back. I know for me, I’m going to do everything I can to stay safe.
“I didn’t spend three months isolated on a farm to come here and get sick, so I want to make sure that I keep myself safe, I keep the coaching staff safe, the players safe, and everybody else safe around me.”
“I’ve taken about three tests so far in the last week,” Rizzo said, “so I feel good about myself. I know I don’t have it.
“I think that with all the protocols in place. I think that MLB is doing the best job they can to keep these players safe and healthy, and I feel good — in our little cocoon here of Major League Baseball — I feel good. I feel safe, and now it goes further than that when you go on the road and when you’re taking the charter planes and you got to other cities, how do you conduct yourself as a team?
“And I think that is going to be the key to being healthy throughout the season, is you really have to caretake each other and make sure that we’re all doing the right thing, because if you get one person that steps out of line and does the wrong thing, it could affect a lot of people and your season is finished.
“We’re going to impress on the players that this is a team thing. If we want to win, we have to stay together. That means on the road, no going out. Stay as safe as you can in those hotels and give ourselves the best chance to keep a safe roster, a healthy roster, and I think if we do that we’ll have as good a chance as anybody of winning.”
Does Rizzo think they’ll pull it off?
“I don’t have a crystal ball. I know we’re going to do everything we can here in Washington, D.C. with the Nationals to fulfill all the protocols and start this season healthy, and like I said, we’ve got a good group of people here, and I think if you follow all the rules and your team takes care of themselves and they’re good caretakers of the Nationals I think that everything should be fine.”
“You know, honestly, that’s a good question,” he said.
“Honestly, I don’t know, but we’re going to do our best to keep everybody safe. We really are. These long days are meant to keep everybody away from each other right now.
“We’re social distancing. We’re wearing masks. Our coaching staff is wearing masks on the field. So we’re going to do everything we can to keep everybody that’s involved safe. We’re getting tested quite often. So we’re going to do everything we can to try to keep everybody that’s involved safe.”