Returning to Washington, D.C.’s Nationals Park last week for the start of Spring Training 2.0 was exciting, GM Mike Rizzo acknowledged when he spoke to reporters on Day 1 of MLB’s second attempted ramp up for the 2020 MLB campaign.
“I was excited walking in,” Rizzo said, though he was greeted by a different environment in the Nats’ home park.
“It was a strange environment. Just a lot of protocols in place. You just can’t come in here with kind of a clear mind.
“You have to be thinking about what you’re trying to do to keep yourself safe, and look out for the other guys.
“You walk in here excited, but also with things on your mind to adhere to the protocol and to conduct yourself in the manner that is safe for yourself, and your family, and for your teammates.”
Manager Davey Martinez spent the shutdown, which began when Major League Baseball shut Spring Training down in mid-March, on his farm in Tennessee, trying to stay healthy while he waited for baseball’s return and COVID-19 spread around the country.
Upon learning when what is being referred to as “Summer Camp” would start, he returned to the nation’s capital to prepare for the work that he’d need to do in a hurry to get ready.
“There’s a lot of different protocols to keep our players healthy, safe, our staff members, everybody surrounding, so that’s one thing,” Martinez explained.
“I spent hours and hours with [Nats’ bench coach Tim] Bogar, myself, [pitching coach Paul Menhart], and [Rizzo], talking about scheduling and what we want to do and how we want to accomplish it to maximize the most we can for each individual player and getting them ready.
“Right now our focus is just getting these guys back on the field and individually building them up so they’re ready to go in a few weeks.”
“It felt weird coming in,” Max Scherzer told reporters when the Nationals’ ace spoke for the first time since returning to D.C.
“It feels like an eternity since we were at Spring Training, so much has happened in everybody’s lives since March.
“To be able to actually have the season get going, it was a sense of relief kind of, to be able to get back in, get back around the guys, start ramping back up for the season here right around the corner.
“That’s the weird part in this: Is that we’re going to be playing our first game in 20-something days. So, you’ve got to get ready.”
Early in the process, however, the team was working out mostly individually, but Martinez said the club would eventually have to start doing work as a team.
“We’re going to have to do this. This is a team sport. There are some challenges, but they’re going to have to get out there and start working on these things. We planned on, Bogie and I sat down last night and revised the schedule, when we get to that point, to have — do some defensive work, do some cut-offs and relays, do some pop-up drills, and stuff of that nature, because we’ve got to get ready for a season and we’ve got to get everybody out on the field.
“Balls are going to be hit. Nobody knows where it’s going to go. When we start off everybody is pretty much social distanced, so we’ll gradually work on doing everything properly, but yeah, we’ve got to get ready for a season.”
Issues with the testing protocol, which reliever Sean Doolittle pointed out on Sunday, cost the Nationals and other teams precious days of Spring Training 2.0, however, which he’d said no team could really afford.
“As I sit here talking to you guys,” Doolittle told reporters, “... I still don’t have my test results from Friday’s test. So, like, I got tested again this morning without knowing the results of my test from Friday, so... we’ve got to clean that up, right? So, that’s one thing that makes me a little nervous.”
“There were a few teams that their results didn’t come back,” he added, “... and so they lost a day, and Spring Training is only three weeks long, you got to have those days. You need every day to try to get ready for the season.”
In a press release from the team on Monday, Rizzo explained that they could not take the risk of having the players and staff gather together without the results, which were delayed over the holiday weekend.
“Per MLB’s protocol,” GM Mike Rizzo explained in a press release issued by the team, “... all players and staff were tested for COVID-19 on Friday, July 3rd. Seventy-two hours later, we have yet to receive the results of those tests. We cannot have our players and staff work at risk. Therefore, we have cancelled our team workout scheduled for this morning. We will not sacrifice the health and safety of our players, staff, and their families. Without accurate and timely testing it is simply not safe for us to continue with Summer Camp. Major League Baseball needs to work quickly to resolve issues with their process and their lab. Otherwise, Summer Camp and the 2020 Season are at risk.”