- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 22, 2020

The Washington Nationals, like the rest of MLB, are trying to solve a riddle: How do you prepare for opening day when opening day is a moving target, bounce, bounce, bouncing across the calendar?

Twice in the past month, Major League Baseball has postponed the start of the year due to concerns over COVID-19.

Spring training has been put on hold, players are left to do workouts on their own and general managers like Washington’s Mike Rizzo are tasked with monitoring updates from the commissioner’s office.

As of now, no one has any idea when things will resume. But that hasn’t stopped the Nationals from putting together a plan for how to conduct business in the meantime.

“We’re going to be fully ready when we’re asked to be ready,” Rizzo said on a conference call recently. “The ramping up of pitchers and players in a safe manner is of the utmost importance to us. There’s a fine line and a delicate balance 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.”

Thirteen players of the Nationals’ 40-man roster remain in West Palm Beach, Rizzo said. Three players came back home to the District and the other 24 went to their offseason homes.

For now, each player is on a workout regimen, either in small, isolated groups or by themselves. All players are required to provide the team with a daily progress report, Rizzo said.

The Nationals, though, appear to be in good health. Rizzo said no players have displayed symptoms of the coronavirus, adding that the team has not tested for the virus.

Still, players are in daily contact with Washington’s medical staff, which has personnel in West Palm and the District.

Along with the medical staff and 13 players, the Nationals have a number of their strength and conditioning staff and other minor leaguers at their spring training site. Rizzo said he and manager Dave Martinez chose to stay in West Palm for the time being, as well.

Rizzo said that when there is a better idea of when baseball can resume, the Nationals and other teams will need time to “ramp up” before the regular season can start.

“We’ll get a much better feel for what we have to do and what we have to be when we finally get a feel for when is opening day,” Rizzo said. “When opening day is announced, we’ll work our schedules back so we’re fully ready to go.”

So far, the only known cases of coronavirus in MLB are the two minor-leaguers in the New York Yankees’ farm system who tested positive.

Rizzo, too, admitted “this thing is not in the general manager’s manual.” With the situation consistently evolving, Rizzo said he and the rest of the organization are working “the best we can.”

But when baseball is finally able to resume, Rizzo sounded confident his team would be ready to defend its World Series title.

“We take it seriously, and we feel, again, we like the team that we have,” Rizzo said. “We feel we are capable of repeating as the world champs. We’re going to have a strategy in place for player health and player preparation to get us ready for opening day. And from opening day, it will be our goal to win another world title for D.C.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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