As the Nationals continue to work to stay baseball-ready for when the season begins, their objective is keeping the team safe during the coronavirus pandemic. On a conference call Friday, general manager Mike Rizzo said no players have exhibited any symptoms and no players have been tested.
“Obviously, we're in unprecedented times here,” Rizzo said. “From the beginning of this pandemic, we've been working very, very closely with the public health authorities and MLB to help us navigate through these troubling times. Our focus is simple: It is for the health and safety of our players, our staff and their families. That is our top priority, and that is what we're working diligently to get done.”
Rizzo, manager Dave Martinez, 13 players and some members of the Nationals' staff have stayed in West Palm Beach, Fla., where the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches Spring Training complex is located. Three players went to Washington, D.C., and the rest returned to their personal homes. Wherever they chose to go, Rizzo said the players are in “constant, direct contact with our medical teams on a daily basis.”
“There are no formal, structured workouts,” Rizzo said. “But they are able to get their workouts in, in small isolated groups, in accordance with MLB protocol and the CDC. So guys are getting their work in at West Palm. We have a handful of players in D.C. Both of these places are staffed with trainers and medical personnel to take care of their health needs and their baseball needs.”
The Nationals also provided hotel rooms in Florida for Venezuelan players in their Minor League camp. Major League Baseball announced Thursday that it is creating a level of compensation for Minor Leaguers. Of the players in the Dominican academy, those who did not have a safer place to go have remained at the academy.
“I feel very, very fortunate that we’re able to take care of these Minor League players,” Rizzo said. “They are near and dear to my heart. I was one of them for many, many years.”
The suspension of Spring Training came at a time when the Nats were beginning to increase the players’ activity and workload in preparation for the start of the regular season. Starting pitchers, for example, were reaching the five-inning mark. Each player had a plan in place with the goal of being ready for March 26. Now, the task has shifted to staying prepared for an unknown Opening Day. Rizzo noted the players are routine-oriented, and he said each player has a program mapped out for him during the delay.
“Obviously the ramping up of pitchers and players in a safe manner is of the utmost importance to us,” Rizzo said. “There’s a fine line and a delicate balance that we have to strike between having them ready on Opening Day, whenever that is, and ramping them up to get to that point. We will have in place a protocol in our set of different criteria to get them to that point.”
The Nationals are balancing the “now” of staying healthy with the future of resuming baseball action.
“We are ramped up and we have a game plan together on how to prepare the roster and the players for the marathon of the season — albeit we don’t know exactly how long that marathon will be this year,” Rizzo said. “But we will be very prepared to defend the world championship, which we hold right now. Can’t forget that. … We take it seriously, and we feel again we like the team that we have. We feel we are capable of repeating as the world champs.”