By HOWARD FENDRICH The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The Nationals will begin their season Tuesday by hosting the Atlanta Braves after Major League Baseball postponed today’s opener of the teams’ three-game series because of a coronavirus outbreak that involves 11 of Washington’s players.
“The most recent round of test results of Nationals personnel included no new positives,” said an MLB statement sent Sunday night. “All of [Washington’s] eligible personnel will be able to participate in baseball activities at Nationals Park on Monday.”
Four Nationals players have tested positive for COVID-19 over the past week and are isolating, while another seven are under quarantine because contact tracing determined they might have been exposed to the illness.
General manager Mike Rizzo said Sunday that none of those 11 — a majority of whom, although not all, were supposed to be on the opening day roster — would be available if the three-game set with Atlanta began today. Rizzo has not publicly identified any of the players involved or the two staff members who also have been placed under quarantine because of possible exposure.
Washington has yet to play this season; its opening three-game series at home against the New York Mets on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday was postponed.
“Believe me, we’re in constant contact with MLB,” Rizzo said in a video call with reporters Sunday afternoon, while he was still awaiting a decision about today’s game.
Rizzo has been adamant that Washington would need to be able to hold team workouts before facing an opponent. Pitchers were able go to Nationals Park one by one on Saturday and Sunday to throw bullpen sessions.
“Position players haven’t worked out in a week. And pitchers haven’t thrown any competitive pitch in that same period of time. It’s something that we’re taking very seriously here. We’re thinking of creative ways under the protocol and under the guidance to get these guys as ready as possible,” Rizzo said.
“It makes a lot of sense for baseball, player protection-wise, to have these guys go through their paces in a full workout before we take the field,” he added.
The reigning NL East champion Braves are 0-3, coming off a season-opening sweep in which they managed to score a total of three runs at the Philadelphia Phillies.
Braves manager Brian Snitker said in the afternoon — before MLB’s ruling arrived — that he was going to assume his club would be playing today until he heard otherwise.
“This is the COVID era. Everything’s fluid,” Snitker said.
The Nationals and Braves are now slated to face each other Tuesday and Wednesday. The 2019 World Series champions, who tied for last in the division last season, then would have Thursday off before heading out for a road trip that is to begin Friday at the Los Angeles Dodgers.
MLB did not announce when the first four games on Washington’s schedule will be made up.
Rizzo said the four players who tested positive are “feeling much, much better,” adding that any symptoms that appeared earlier have subsided.
“We want to do everything we can to nip this thing in the bud right here, right now,” Rizzo said. “So I think that’s being taken very much into consideration when we’re talking [about] the next couple of days.”