Baseball’s two World Series finalists cancelled workouts Monday because of COVID-19 testing delays that one executive worried could endanger the baseball season.
The defending champion Washington Nationals and reigning American League champion Houston Astros each called off training camp practices after not receiving test results from Friday. The cancellations come amid delays around Major League Baseball, with some players opting out, and in the aftermath of Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle criticizing slow test results and a lack of some personal protective equipment.
“We will not sacrifice the health and safety of our players, staff and their families,” Washington general manager Mike Rizzo said. “Without accurate and timely testing, it is simply not safe for us to continue with summer camp. Major League Baseball needs to work quickly to resolve issues with their process and their lab. Otherwise, summer camp and the 2020 season are at risk.”
Astros general manager James Click said the delay in testing results and the contagious nature of the coronavirus led to the decision to cancel a full day of workouts.
“Despite these delays over the holiday weekend, we’re optimistic that the this process will be ironed out and we’ll be back on the field and ready to compete for a championship soon,” Click said.
Hours later, the Astros said they had received the delayed test results and would work out Tuesday.
MLB said in a statement that 95 per cent of its intake testing had been completed and that the Utah laboratory it’s using had reported 98 per cent of results, a majority a day after samples were collected. MLB said it addressed delays caused by the holiday weekend, doesn’t expect them to continue and commended teams for cancelling workouts.
But frustration is building around the majors over testing delays.
‘We’ve got a big hill to climb’
The Los Angeles Angels were forced to collect their own saliva samples Sunday when testers didn’t show up at their camp training complexes in Anaheim or Long Beach. They also delayed their workouts Monday to accommodate the testers, eventually turning their usual morning drills into an optional afternoon session.
Angels manager Joe Maddon believes “this will be a short-lived situation” and pinned the problem on the holiday weekend.
“I want to believe everything will get straightened out relatively soon,” Maddon said. “I think it’s just one of those moments that was hard to foresee coming into it, but I’ve got a lot of confidence that it’s going to be fixed.”
The Oakland Athletics have yet to have a full-squad workout as they await test results, with manager Bob Melvin optimistic it could be soon. The Arizona Diamondbacks pushed back Monday’s workout a few hours, hoping to get additional results from tests that were taken on Friday.
Two projected members of the Athletics’ starting rotation, Mike Fiers and Jesus Luzardo, missed their second consecutive workout Sunday because of what manager Bob Melvin called a “pending” issue without elaborating.
Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant said some teammates hadn’t been tested in seven or eight days
“I think if we really want this to succeed, we’re going to have to figure that out,” Bryant said. “If you can’t really nail the easy part, which is right now… we’ve got a big hill to climb.”
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Meanwhile, players continue to test positive or opt out of playing.
Texas Rangers all-star outfielder Joey Gallo was isolating at his Dallas apartment Monday after two positive test results sandwiched around a negative. General manager Jon Daniels said Gallo was asymptomatic
“You had to have the mindset that there were going to be some kinks to be worked out,” Daniels said. “I think you have to anticipate that there are going to be some issues here as you go along. It’s just not realistic to roll out an operation of this scale on as quick a timeline as we’ve had and not deal with some challenges.”
‘This is all new for everybody’
Atlanta Braves outfielder Nick Markakis on Monday became the latest high-profile player to choose not to play this season. Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher David Price, Colorado Rockies infielder Ian Desmond, Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and Braves pitcher Felix Hernandez are among those who have opted out.
Two Nationals players were among the 31 to test positive during intake testing last week. Manager Dave Martinez said Sunday some of the 60 Nationals players tested were still awaiting results.
“Obviously, this is all new for everybody,” Martinez said. “We’ve hit some bumpy roads. But they’re doing the best they can. I know they are. They’re working on cleaning everything up. We’re in a very, very different situation. No one’s ever done this before. So I know they’re working out all the bugs.”
Doolittle, who is still on the fence about playing this season, said he still hadn’t gotten his Friday results back before being tested again Sunday.
“That’s one thing that makes me a little nervous,” Doolittle said. “We’re not getting tests back in time. They still haven’t sent us the PPE. We’re supposed to have N-95 masks, stuff like that, gowns, gloves. We’re supposed to have that stuff, we don’t have that stuff. Those are the things it’s going to take for people to stay safe enough for us to continue this season.”
Not every team is dissatisfied with the testing process. Braves manager Brian Snitker said business was as usual at his camp, and Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell said things are going smoothly with his club.
“There’s a lot of hard work that goes into the logistics of setting this up,” Counsell said. “There’s going to be snags in this. I think we all know that. But I’m pleased with how it’s gone so far.”
Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly said players and staff were tested again Monday because of testing issues.
“If we get to a certain date and we don’t have anything back, we would consider doing [cancelling workouts] as the Nationals and other teams have done,” Mattingly said.
The Cleveland Indians have not had any issues related to testing, but All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor said it’s vital that teams get equal practice time before the season starts.
“We’ve got to make sure the testing is 99.9 per cent accurate,” Lindor said. “We have to do a better job as players, the union, drug testing people, everybody. If we’re going to make this work, we have to do a better job. There’s no way you can suspend practices. That’s not a fair advantage for anybody. We all signed up to have a 21-day spring training, that’s how we should do it. Everybody should have the same amount of days.”