- The Washington Times - Friday, April 2, 2021

The Washington Nationals plan to take the field Monday for the team’s coronavirus-delayed opening day. But at this point, no plan is a sure thing — not after a fourth confirmed positive case among players that leaves 10 individuals overall in quarantine after contact tracing.

MLB scrapped the remainder of Washington’s season-opening series against the New York Mets on Friday, postponing Saturday and Sunday matchups.

General manager Mike Rizzo said the plan to begin the season on Monday against the Atlanta Braves is contingent on several factors. A day in which no positive tests returned would be the paramount consideration. But Rizzo said the ability to practice Saturday in some fashion would also be key.

If the Nationals return all negative tests in the latest batch of samples, that could allow the team to practice in small groups Saturday. That potential practice will go a long way in determining when Washington will take the field to begin its 2021 campaign.

“It’s just hard to have them sitting and playing video games or whatever for two or three days, and then to ramp up again,” Rizzo said. “To me, it’s a safety issue, that we’ve got to get these guys’ blood flowing, that we got to get these guys moving around, so they don’t go into the start of the season going from zero to 100 miles per hour without preparation for the last couple of days.”

The first positive case came back early Wednesday morning, stemming from a test taken while the team was still in Florida at spring training. Between that Monday test and Wednesday discovery, the Nationals took a charter flight back to D.C.

Initially, four players and one staffer were deemed close contacts, and that group entered quarantine. The three new confirmed positive cases for players announced Thursday and Friday were all from that initial group. Since then, contact tracing has added another four players to quarantine, bringing Washington’s total to 10 individuals impacted.

Rizzo said Thursday that only one of the players was experiencing symptoms — a fever — but Friday the general manager said that player is feeling “close to normal.” All the rest are asymptomatic. All nine of the players will miss Monday’s theoretical opening day, meaning Rizzo will need to call up players from Washington’s alternate training site in Fredericksburg, Va.

“We have confidence in our depth,” Rizzo said. “We like the players we have down there in Fredericksburg, and we’ll going to be relying heavily on them.”

The Nationals hadn’t had a positive case throughout spring training. Across the league, coronavirus numbers have been low. MLB announced Friday that 38 players and staff members had returned a positive test since the league’s intake testing for spring training, good for a 0.04% positive rate.

But Washington is experiencing coronavirus issues, delaying the start of its season.

“We haven’t completed autopsy or investigation, if you will, on how things ended there in spring training,” Rizzo said. “But we had a good camp. Again, I’m supportive of the players. I don’t think there was a protocol broken.”

Should the Nationals play Monday, Rizzo expects Max Scherzer to still be the starting pitcher on the bump.

There’s still a way to go before a Monday game can take place, however. First, Washington must hope for no more positive tests to return. The team also needs to practice, so the players don’t take the field cold. Rizzo didn’t offer a specific deadline for when the decision to play Monday must be made.

“This is a day-by-day thing,” Rizzo said. “But our preparation is to play a game against the Braves on Monday. And depending on what happens in the next day or so, we’ll be in contact with MLB, and we’ll make the decision on whether we’ll play or not.”

• Andy Kostka can be reached at akostka@washingtontimes.com.

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