- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Washington Nationals had one player test positive for the coronavirus, general manager Mike Rizzo said Wednesday, and another four players and one staff member have been deemed close contacts, putting a damper on Thursday’s opening day.

The five players will miss the season opener against the New York Mets, although Rizzo didn’t identify who had been impacted by the coronavirus. According to MLB’s protocols, close contacts to a positive case must quarantine for at least seven days.

Rizzo said the positive test stems from the team’s Monday testing, before the Nationals played their spring training finale. Then most of the team boarded a charter plane back to D.C.

The positive case and subsequent quarantines of four other players will require roster moves before Washington faces the Mets on Thursday at 7:09 p.m. Rizzo added that the game will be played as scheduled.

“This is just a small blip on our radar screen,” Rizzo said. “We’re going to handle it and take it in stride. And this is the reason why you have 60 good players in your organization, is to kind of prepare for these kinds of fail-safe scenarios.”

Rizzo said the Nationals hadn’t had a positive case all spring training. Once the team learned of the positive case early Wednesday morning, they underwent subsequent testing — the standard every-other-day MLB test as well as a rapid test.

The results from those will go a long way in determining if there was any possible transmission on the charter flight back to Washington. In the meantime, the Nationals will require the assistance of a few players from their alternate training site in Fredericksburg, Virginia, to play Thursday and potentially beyond as the team navigates the coronavirus case.

MLB is allowing clubs to add players to the active list temporarily if they experience a coronavirus outbreak, without needing to place those players on waivers or option them once the other players are healthy to return.

Max Scherzer, who’s scheduled to pitch Thursday against Jacob deGrom, wasn’t on the charter flight back to Washington. He and his family instead flew separately. That leaves Scherzer feeling comfortable he’ll be good to pitch opening day.

Up until this point, there had been just 33 positive cases among players during spring training, including the intake testing. 

For players who test positive, MLB protocols require they isolate for a minimum of 10 days. They must undergo a cardiac evaluation before they can return as well as pass an evaluation from the team’s physician and the league’s joint committee.

Close contacts must quarantine for at least seven days. Before they can return, they must test negative on day five or later and show no symptoms.

“We had done so well in spring training, everybody across the game,” Scherzer said. “We had seen so few positive cases across spring training as a whole. But it just shows how quickly that can turn. It can turn on a dime, and we have to face it, and we have to overcome it.”

Last year, the Nationals experienced a coronavirus issue ahead of opening day, too, when Juan Soto was held out over what he felt was a false-positive test.

“Experience is always a good teacher,” Rizzo said. “We went through a little bit of this opening day last year. … It’s not the unknown anymore. We know how to test; we know what happens if there’s a positive, and we react quickly, swiftly within the protocols that have been tried and true through last season.”

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

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