The Nationals’ season-opening roster will not include the team’s best and brightest young star.
Juan Soto was not included on the Nats’ initial 30-man roster and will not be active for tonight’s opener against the Yankees after testing positive for COVID-19, general manager Mike Rizzo announced this afternoon.
Soto, like others on the team, was tested Tuesday. He is asymptomatic, but early this morning his test result came back positive, said Rizzo, who added all other tests taken by members of the club have returned negative.
In order to be cleared to rejoin the team, Soto will need to test negative twice over a span of at least 24 hours. In theory, that could happen over the weekend and he could be back in the lineup. Soto is not subject to a full, 14-day quarantine as stipulated by District of Columbia regulations.
“No, I think we’re following the MLB protocol and the CDC protocol,” Rizzo said.
Though he missed the first two weeks of summer training because he came into contact with someone else who tested positive, Soto himself tested negative four times until this most recent test, according to manager Davey Martinez. The Nationals, in following Major League Baseball rules, have conducted contact tracing today to see who has been in close proximity to Soto. For now, nobody else is required to quarantine.
“We are casting a wide net,” Rizzo said, “and at this point, there’s nobody else that’s ineligible because of the contact tracing.”
The Nationals haven’t revealed their lineup for tonight’s nationally televised opener yet, but Martinez said Andrew Stevenson will replace Soto in left field for a difficult matchup against new Yankees ace Gerrit Cole.
“You’ve just got to rally amongst each other and try to score some runs. That’s all you can do,” Martinez said. “These guys are unbelievable. We’ve been here before. We’ve had tons of adversity before. These guys get it. They understand it’s part of the game. We’re going to go out and compete today. That’s all we can do.”
Rizzo and Martinez learned the news early this morning from the Nationals’ medical staff. After the initial shock, they set out to take care of a long list of tasks suddenly on their plates.
“Next man up,” Rizzo said. “Let’s go. We’ve got to make our roster move. We’ve got to contact everybody we’ve got to contact. Of course, our first priority is to take care of Juan and his family, and then we go into baseball mode. We make roster moves. We make lineup changes. And we make strategic changes with the major league manager and the coaching staff. I think you have to take a business-as-usual approach to it, just like any other injury during the season. I think that’s really the way we attacked it this morning.”
Anyone who had recently come into close contact with Soto was tested this morning. The entire team and staff was already scheduled to be tested today. They are hoping for new results tomorrow. In the meantime, they can only prepare to play a ballgame and hope for the best.
“You definitely worry,” Martinez said. “This is the importance of wearing our mask throughout. For me, I don’t go anywhere except in this room. And I have my mask on 24/7 to protect myself and to protect other people, because you just don’t know. I know we’ve got to go through this contact tracing now. Hopefully, nobody contracted anything, and he’s the only one that has to go through this.”
Here’s the Nationals’ 30-man roster to open the season: