“There’s a total of 10 [people] affected,” Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo said on a Zoom call with reporters on Friday afternoon, “... four have tested positive, and six via contact tracing. And nine of those are players and one is a staff member.”
This isn’t how anyone in the nation’s capital wanted the 2021 MLB season to start. A COVID outbreak in advance of Opening Day in D.C. has the Nationals unsure when their season is actually going to start.
Rizzo, the General Manager and President of Baseball ops in Washington did characterize the situation he and his team are in right now as a “crisis” when he was asked what his message for fans is at this point, with the season-opening, three-game series against the New York Mets postponed after four positive tests for COVID-19 since the club left Spring Training in West Palm Beach, FL on Monday.
“We’re moving forward in the most safe and professional way that we can. Our No. 1 priority is the safety of our players, their families, our staff, and the fans,” Rizzo said.
“We’re preparing to play on Monday, which will be our Opening Day if we do play it. And I go back to what we talked about before this COVID crisis came about, is that we’ve got a really good team that we’re anxious to see play and the depth of this organization will have to get us out of the gates sooner rather than later, but we’re excited to toe the rubber and play baseball and real baseball games, with real fans in the stands.”
If they can play on Monday, those nine players (35% of the 26-man roster) will be unavailable.
The rest of the club is waiting to hear what’s next, and trying to stay sharp as the situation plays out and MLB and the club figure out when they can actually start the season.
“They’re just trying to stay ready and stay prepared to play. This is a serious thing, we take it very, very seriously,” Rizzo said.
“It’s the health of the players, and their families, so there is a [seriousness] about it. Players are trying to find ways to get their work in and still quarantine at the same time. We’re a lot like we were in last year’s Spring Training, between Spring Training 1.0 and 2.0, they’re trying to find different avenues to stay ready and still stay in the quarantine protocol that we have them in.”
If they are going to play on Monday, however, the team, which has been off since this past Monday now, will have to find some way to work out and ramp back up for a delayed start to their 2021 season.
“We will have — we’ll be in contact with MLB and if we come with all clean tests today,” Rizzo explained, “... all negative tests today, we will see if we can work out tomorrow in preparation for a game on Monday.”
The plan, right now, is still for Max Scherzer to start Game 1 of 162 as he was scheduled to on Thursday night, but he’ll need to find some way to work out as he waits to find out just when that will be.
“I think that he’s going to do something,” Rizzo said, “and it’s really for the protection of the players, because you have this postponement, that doesn’t mean the players’ arms don’t need to be stretched out and prepared to start. You can’t just go from a dead stop and this postponement to ramping up to play the Atlanta Braves and not expect there to be injuries.
“So we have to find ways to work guys out. Hopefully MLB will allow us to work out tomorrow.
“We’re going to do that in segments and small groups and to be spread out in accordance with the protocol, and we’ll get our work in hopefully starting tomorrow.
“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, so to me it’s a safety issue.
“We’ve got to get these guys’ blood flowing, we’ve got to get them moving around so they don’t go into the start of the season going 0 to 100 MPH without preparation for the last couple of days.”
The process for getting cleared to return to workouts and then eventually play games?
“We’re in constant contact and communication with [MLB and the D.C. government],” Rizzo said.
“I think it would go a long way if we had a clean team test with this round of tests being all negatives. I think that that would allow us to discuss with MLB to work out, especially if we are preparing and planning to play on Monday, I think it would be vital for us to work out tomorrow.”