- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 5, 2020

Manager Dave Martinez announced Sunday that two Washington Nationals players tested positive for COVID-19.

Martinez said the two players received their results before reporting to Nationals Park, so they have not yet been in contact with the rest of the team.

“It definitely hurts,” Martinez said. “One, you think about the player. Two, you think about if they have families, if they have kids, and hope that they’re all OK. And then hope that they become asymptomatic and they don’t get that virus that a lot of people did get and get really sick. Only time will tell with that when they get this virus. It attacks everybody differently, as we all know.”

Out of a group of 58 tests, most players tested negative and were cleared to play, but some who reported later than Wednesday have not gotten their intake results back yet, Martinez said.

The news comes as concern begins to grow about the state of Major League Baseball’s pandemic health and safety protocols.

Closer Sean Doolittle was tested for COVID-19 Friday as part of the league’s mandate that all players be tested every two days. After being administered another test Sunday, Doolittle told reporters that he’s still waiting for the result of Friday’s test.

Doolittle said the Nationals’ medical team has been doing an “incredible” job, given the circumstances. But he hasn’t ruled out opting out of the 2020 season.

“I think it’s running as smoothly as it can at this point,” he said. “There’s a lot of players right now trying to make decisions that might be participating in camp that aren’t 100% comfortable with where things are at right now. That’s kind of where I am. I think I’m planning on playing.

“But if at any point I start to feel unsafe, if it starts to take a toll on my mental health with all these things we have to worry about and kind of this cloud of uncertainty hanging over everything, then I’ll opt out,” Doolittle added. “But for now, I’ve prepared for the last three months like I’m going to play.”

Nationals players were told their intake results would be available at 3 a.m. Friday — mere hours before they were scheduled to be at the park for their first day of summer camp — so players set alarms to find out in the middle of the night, Doolittle said.

“We went to sleep that night, on Thursday night, not knowing if we were gonna have practice the next day because we didn’t know if our results would be in in time,” he said. “And there were a few teams that their results didn’t come back, and so they lost a day.”

Martinez, hopeful that the slow start to testing had to do with the Independence Day holiday weekend, believed that MLB was doing everything it could in an unprecedented situation. But the turnaround times are having far-reaching effects on the sport. The Oakland Athletics had to cancel part of their Sunday workouts because not all of their intake test results had come back in time.

Atlanta Braves star Freddie Freeman was one of four Braves to test positive for COVID-19 over the weekend, after a negative intake test. New York Yankees infield D.J. LeMahieu and Minnesota Twins third baseman Miguel Sano tested positive for the virus.

A few notable names, like former Cy Young winners David Price and Felix Hernandez, opted out of the season this weekend. And St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Andrew Miller said Sunday that he felt “there’s still some doubt that we’re going to have a season now.”

Three Nationals players — first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, pitcher Joe Ross and catcher Welington Castillo — already have opted out of playing this year.

Kieboom to be third baseman

In on-the-field news, Martinez revealed that he anticipates rookie Carter Kieboom will be Washington’s starting third baseman in 2020.

With the departure of Anthony Rendon in free agency, the Nationals’ top prospect was expected to compete for the job. When the pandemic interrupted spring training, that competition was rendered moot. Asdrúbal Cabrera and other teammates may form a rotation for games elsewhere in the infield.

Kieboom is naturally a middle infielder and has shown a propensity for errors when playing third, both at Triple-A Fresno last year and in a few appearances for the Nationals. Defense will need to be his biggest area of improvement, Martinez said.

“I know he’s been working out. He’s hit tons,” Martinez said Saturday. “I know he’s faced live pitching and [was] trying to keep in shape the best he can and trying to do baseball activities as much as he can.”

Martinez quiet on DH plans

The Nationals likely will begin playing intrasquad scrimmages later this week, but until then, there haven’t been any clues who might be the team’s No. 1 option at designated hitter.

National League teams will have full-time DH rules for the first time this year.

Howie Kendrick remains the best bet, as he played DH in all four World Series games played under American League rules last October. But Martinez didn’t say what he had in mind.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what transpires, but we’ve got some pretty good DHs that’s gonna be in our lineup,” Martinez said. “It gives them a chance to actually play every day, as opposed to not playing.”

• Adam Zielonka can be reached at azielonka@washingtontimes.com.

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