The Nationals returned to work today, and they did so in a manner we hadn’t yet seen during these first days of summer training. Every available position player was on the field at Nationals Park at the same time this morning, coaches hitting balls to various outfielders so they could work on relay throws. At the same time, a few pitchers were throwing in the bullpen.
It looked, for all intents and purposes, like a normal workout day.
“It was a good day, it really was,” manager Davey Martinez said. “We did a lot of baseball stuff, which was nice. Getting to see those guys on the field, throwing the ball in from the outfield to the cutoff man, throwing the ball around just like we’re playing a (simulated) game ... it was really, really good.”
Nothing about the circumstances, of course, are normal. Only one day earlier, Martinez and general manager Mike Rizzo sent everyone home and canceled the scheduled workout because they had yet to receive results of the COVID-19 tests they took 72 hours earlier, a failure of the system so meticulously crafted by Major League Baseball, the MLB Players Association and the Utah lab that administers all the tests.
“Yesterday, we had too many outstanding tests, and we didn’t have the information on the players and their safety,” Rizzo said. “And figured instead of going in blind and hoping that the outstanding cases aren’t going to be positive, we just didn’t have a good enough feeling that we were having the players’ safety at the forefront.”
Those July 3 test results finally arrived late Monday. All came back negative. So the Nationals instructed everyone to come this morning and resume workouts.
It was a snafu nobody in the sport wants to endure again, but one nobody can say with certainty won’t happen again. This is going to be life in the big leagues in 2020, and everyone involved can only learn how to adjust to it.
“It’s unfortunate to have to go home,” shortstop Trea Turner said. “But we’re going to have some hiccups along the way. As long as everyone stays safe and abides by the rules, I think we can get through a lot of it. Hopefully, testing gets turned around a little quicker and they get things worked out, because I think that’s very important. Maybe the most important thing is to find out those results as quickly as possible. But going home for a day, as long as nothing drastic happened, as long as nothing negative happened to anybody, I can roll with it and move on and try to enjoy the day.”
The loss of one day of workouts shouldn’t be too big a deal. Then again, in a three-week camp, with opening night against the Yankees now looming only 16 days away, any time lost is magnified.
And any future cancellations, if necessary, would throw a significant wrench into the club’s preparation.
“We’re going to proceed with caution,” Rizzo said. “And if we don’t have the information that we need, we’re not going to put players’ health in jeopardy.”
Today’s workout was notable for the volume of players who appeared together on the field - socially distanced, as much as possible - for the first time since camp opened Friday. It was also notable for the absence of several prominent position players: Howie Kendrick, Juan Soto, Victor Robles and Starlin Castro.
Rizzo could not provide specific reasons for each player’s absence, except to make two important points:
* Two of the team’s 58 players in camp tested positive for COVID-19 during intake screening. Both of those players are asymptomatic but in mandatory quarantine until they test negative two consecutive days, he said.
* Others who tested negative in intake screening but came into contact with the two infected players were required to be re-tested and can’t participate in camp until those follow-up tests come back negative.
“If you come into any type of contact with a player that is positive - and we cast a real wide net of being in contact - then you have to be re-tested,” Rizzo said. “Those players were re-tested a couple days ago, and we’re waiting on the results on a group of those players.”
For those who are here, the focus remains on baseball. And adhering to strict protocols to make sure nobody else is forced to leave camp.
“I sat in my office yesterday morning, and as we all know I canceled practice,” Martinez said. “And that’s because that’s how much I care about these guys. I want to keep them healthy, but also everyone else around us healthy. We’ve got our coaching staff, our training staff, everybody’s involved here. If two or three guys go down because they’re ill, it doesn’t do anybody any good. And we still don’t know what this thing really does to each individual. It’s different for each individual. So my job is to keep these guys safe and healthy and get them ready to play.”