Nats star Juan Soto positive for COVID-19, out for opener

WASHINGTON >> Marking the pitfalls of the beginning of the baseball season amid a pandemic, Washington Nationals batter Juan Soto tested positive for COVID-19 and was placed on the injured list today, hours before the 2019 World Series champions had to take it up against the New York Yankees on opening day.

Major League Baseball is the first of four major North American team sports to play regular season games during the corona virus outbreak, which is getting worse in some parts of the U.S.

“You feel bad for him. He is a great player. The fans want to see him. And it affects our line-up, ”said Mike Rizzo, general manager of Nationals.

“But what can you do about it?” Rizzo added. “You have to play a ball. … We will have to win without our best man. It’s a challenge.”

Soto, a 21-year old leftfielder who was a breakout star last October after producing 34 homeruns and 110 RBI’s during the regular season, will be eliminated until he can come out negative on two consecutive coronavirus tests.

“Unfortunately it hit us. And it hit us at a bad time, ”said Dave Martinez, manager of Nationals.

Rizzo and Martinez said they got the news about Soto this morning.

“It hurts… It is annoying and then reality starts,” said Martinez. “We are in the middle of a pandemic and we have to be very careful.”

Soto, replaced in the left field by Andrew Stevenson in today’s lineup, had already missed the first two weeks of the team’s summer camp this month after being exposed to someone with COVID-19.

“It’s asymptomatic,” said Rizzo. “He follows all Major League protocols.”

Rizzo said the Nationals had conducted contact tracking to check if other members of the organization had been exposed and “no one else is currently unavailable”.

Every member of the Nationals was tested today, but results were not expected before Friday, Martinez said.

“Until we get those tests back,” he said, “we don’t know where we really stand.”

Still, Yankees manager Aaron Boone said he didn’t hesitate to play today’s game.

What he was wary of – and suggested his players and coaches would be too – was having too close contact with the Nationals, especially during match hours, when it is customary to greet opponent members you know .

“Normally, even in this environment, I wouldn’t really think twice about going over and just saying” Hello “, keeping my distance. I would be even more careful now, because you obviously don’t know the consequences these are, “Boone said.” So it’s a reminder that these things can happen. Here it is, opening day, and one of the best players in the game, it happens. It’s another reminder that it’s important to do everything possible to protect ourselves. “

In other steps, when Washington set its 30-person opening day, outfielder Emilio Bonifácio’s contract was selected, as was left-wing Sam Freeman’s and rightful Javy Guerra’s. Austin Voth, who entered spring practice in a triple competition for the only unclaimed spot in the rotation, was named by the Nationals as their fifth starter.

The other candidates were Erick Fedde, who was listed as a reliever on Thursday’s roster announcement, and Joe Ross, who opted out of the 2020 season.

Also today, Yankees second baseman DJ LeMahieu was recovered from the injured COVID-19 list when New York made the selection before playing Game 1.

Yankees poet Aroldis Chapman and starter Masahiro Tanaka start the season on injured lists – Chapman on the COVID IL and Tanaka on the 7-day IL after being hit in the head by a punched ball.

Boone announced on July 4 that LeMahieu and right-handed Luis Cessa tested positive for the coronavirus before traveling to New York for the team’s summer camp, saying they isolated themselves at home.

LeMahieu signed for the Yankees last season, hitting .327, reaching a career high with 26 homeruns and 102 RBI’s. He was not in today’s starting line-up; Tyler Wade played second and was ninth.

The Yankees also brought in infielder Thairo Estrada and righthand pitchers Ben Heller and Michael King from the alternate venue today. That trio is part of a group of eight Yankees making their first active opening day for their careers, along with starting third baseman Gio Urshela, outfielder Clint Frazier, infielder Mike Ford, catcher Kyle Higashioka and righthanded Jonathan Loaisiga.

Ford, who went to Princeton and showed some power when summoned by New York in 2019, posted a message on Instagram today calling it “ a very special moment for me. ”

“I will finally be able to see my name on an opening day card in the major leagues. I know the rosters are expanding and it’s a strange season, but it’s a season I will always remember, ” said Ford’s post. “If you had told me my dream of making the opening day schedule for the Yankees, like a young child in New Jersey would come true, I wouldn’t have believed you.”

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