Ex-Giants pitcher Mike Leake first player to sit out 2020 MLB season

Ex-Giants pitcher Mike Leake first player to sit out 2020 MLB season

Former Giants right-handed pitcher Mike Leake became the first player officially to opt out of the 2020 MLB season. 

Leake, now with the NL West-rival Arizona Diamondbacks, has put the well-being of himself and his family ahead of his career.

“During this global pandemic, Mike and his family had many discussions about playing this season,” Leake’s agent, Danny Horwitz, said in a statement on Monday. “They took countless factors into consideration, many of which are personal to him and his family. After thorough consideration, he has chosen to opt out of playing in 2020. This was not an easy decision for Mike. He wishes the best of luck and health for his Diamondback teammates this season and he’s looking forward to 2021.”

The 10-year veteran boasted a 4.05 ERA with a 1.281 WHIP and earned a Gold Glove in 2019 with the Seattle Mariners.

The 32-year-old also is not the only one to opt out of the upcoming season due to concerns associated with the coronavirus pandemic.  

Washington Nationals infielder Ryan Zimmerman and right-handed pitcher Joe Ross also have made the decision to not play in MLB’s 60-game season. They had the full support of general manager Mike Rizzo, as he said in a statement. 

[RELATED: Giants top prospect Hunter Bishop tests positive for COVID-19]

Zimmerman specifically has worries for his mother, Cheryl, who has multiple sclerosis and his three young children, one in whom is a newborn. And at the age of 35, he wanted to clarify the decision to not play in the upcoming season does not mean he’s retiring. He has plans to continue his career following 2020.

The three are the first reported to make the decision, but it’s almost certain they will not be the last. 

MLB has new safety protocols, but there's only so much two key Giants can do

MLB has new safety protocols, but there's only so much two key Giants can do

To help keep players, coaches and umpires safe, MLB has eliminated the pre-game exchange of lineup cards and instituted new rules regarding how close players can get on the field. The operations manual asks that players stand at least six feet apart during the anthem every night and discourages pre-game fraternization with members of the opposing team. 

The manual includes two full pages of bulleted on-field protocols, including one that says "Players, umpires, and other on-field personnel should practice physical distancing to the extent possible within the limitations of competition and the fundamentals of baseball."

When people around the game started examining the new rules, though, one thing became crystal clear. There are parts of every game that you can't regulate, particularly at the plate and first base. 

You can ask players to do all they can to socially distance, but there's no getting around the fact that every night at least 18 of them will dig into the box, many at the back it because of hitting preferences, with two catchers in the crouch, breathing heavily as they go through a game. Behind the catchers there still will be an umpire, and they tend to lean on shoulders and get as close as possible to get a better view of the pitch.

"I've definitely thought about that," catcher Buster Posey said. "I don't know if umpires will have to wear masks or not. I think that would be one thing that would help, but obviously you can't expect the batter to come up and wear a mask or a catcher to wear a mask (under his catcher's mask) during a game."

The current version of the new rulebook does not ask that umpires wear masks as they stand behind the catcher, although it does encourage distancing when possible and demands that they complete COVID-19 education before the season and during.

Posey will be at the greatest risk of exposure on a nightly basis, with Brandon Belt also sticking out from most regular fielders, and not just because the first baseman is the endpoint of so many plays (last year Belt caught more than 1,000 outs at first). When opposing runners reach first, Belt will have to hold them close, often swiping down on throws over to first. 

"Obviously we're going to be pretty close over there," he said. "I'll try not to get in anybody's face anyway. I think I can do the same thing I've always done. Obviously we're going to be close but I'll do my best to stay as far away from them as possible while still being able to play my position. There's probably going to be a little less talking over there for me, which I probably shouldn't be doing anyway. Avoiding face-to-face talking will help go a long way."

While Posey expressed serious reservations about playing this season, Belt, in his first interview since March, said he's optimistic about the season. 

Belt has spent the hiatus back home in Nacogdoches, Texas, but he said his county wasn't a hot spot in recent weeks like the rest of the state, which was slow to react to COVID-19. Belt said he has spoken to doctors "quite a bit" about the risks and will continue to take precautions. 

The Giants are doing the right things during training sessions and continue to mold their plans for the season. But when the games start and wins and losses are on the line, there's only so much that can be done to parts of the game that have been around for a century. The first few actual games later this month will give them a better idea of how to handle nine innings. 

[RELATED: Giants add four to player pool]

"The landscape is going to continually change and we're going to have to adjust and modify how we do things," Posey said. "That's just the reality of the world we're living in right now."

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Duane Kuiper, Mike Krukow provide outlook on different 2020 MLB season

Duane Kuiper, Mike Krukow provide outlook on different 2020 MLB season

With Spring Training 2.0 opening up around Major League Baseball this weekend, no one is more excited about the return of our National Pastime than the legendary voices of Giants baseball, Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow. 

“I’m thrilled," Kuiper said during a recent conversation. "I’m thrilled for me, personally, selfishly that I get to go to the ballpark and do a game with Mike. Now I can’t wait for the schedule to come out and drive to the ballpark. I’ll even be happy stuck in traffic driving to the park.”

“Well, he’ll be happy for like two days stuck in traffic.” Krukow said.

And there’s a lot to look forward to in what will be a season unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. Instead of a marathon, it’s become a 60-game sprint, which Krukow believes is a huge advantage for a team like the Giants.

“It’s a golden opportunity," Krukow said. "Everyone keeps talking about the rebuild. Well, the Giants have one of the older teams in baseball. What older teams have learned, especially the ones who have been champions, they learn the importance of chemistry. They learn the importance of a good attitude. And I think that is going to be paramount when they gather up.

"We thought the Giants had a great spring training. There was really a nice foundation being laid of a positive vibe. If they get off to a good start, it’s a sprint. They could be in the playoffs. And once they get into the playoffs, who knows what could happen.”

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Kuiper agrees with his broadcast partner.

“Yeah, I mean, think about the 60 games," Kuiper said. "It’s equivalent to almost one game equals three games. So if you had a three-game winning streak, it’s like an eight- or nine-game winning streak, for during the regular season. But on the other hand, if you go in the toilet early, well, then you’re probably looking at prospects. So you have to get off to a good start.”

There’s also a handful of new rules to adjust to, that has Kruk & Kuip intrigued. MLB already had instituted the three-batter minimum for relievers entering the game. But now there will be a universal designated hitter, and while it’s technically planned for just this season, Kuiper thinks it might be here to stay.

“You know the DH, as much as we b---h about people in the National League that don’t like it, it’s coming," Kuiper said. "And I don’t think there’s any way we can stop it. I think the Players Association wants it. And if they want it, and they can use that as a tool for negotiations, then I think eventually that’s just the way it’s going to be.

“I’ve said it before, for every Madison Bumgarner at the plate, there’s 30 Atlee Hammakers.”

But the biggest change in this shortened season will be what happens in extra innings, when teams start with a runner at second base in an effort to end games quicker and avoid those exhausting all-nighters, which Krukow believes is essential to protecting pitchers.

“It’s kinda like starting your offense from the 25-yard line in football, it’s like what?" Krukow said. "But I think now, because there is a vulnerability to injury when you haven’t had a full spring training for your pitchers, the rule makes sense. The one thing you dread is an extra-inning game going 17, 18 innings. It just destroys your staff. And I think that was the real reason they put this into effect to sort of protect the physical side of your pitching staff. So I think it’s going to be fun.”

Yeah, maybe fun for the runner at second, but the pitcher entering the game, not so much. A fact, Krukow, a former pitcher, was quick to point out. But there is another reason he loves the idea.

“You know what I think? The bunt has just completely been almost removed from the game," Krukow said. "And I always thought it was a beautiful thing to watch a good sacrifice bunt. Or a good at-bat when a hitter hit a ball to the right side of the infield to get that runner over. When you start that inning with a runner on second base, you’re going to see small ball back. I’m looking forward to it.”

One thing is for certain, this season will be strange in so many ways, but Kuiper believes, “if you’re going to try something different, now is the time to do it.”

The toughest challenge no doubt will be keeping everyone safe in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic. The other will be adjusting to the constant changes as routines are broken and possibly altered consistently throughout the entire two-month season. Krukow believes how the Giants handle it will be key to their success.

“We get back to attitude," Krukow said. "When you’re in the world of baseball, a routine is so much a part of your day. It’s so much a part of the rhythm you take right into the game. And nothing throws off an athlete or baseball player more than having his routine broken up. So it’s going to be really important that you overcome it mentally as a group.

"That’s going to give you an edge early on. And one bad apple or attitude could spoil a whole clubhouse. That’s going to be very interesting to watch to see how players react to having routines on a routine basis upset.”

As Krukow’s broadcast partner of 30 years, Kuiper is keeping it real.

“I don’t care about the players routine, it’s our routine that they’re messing with," Kuiper said. "I mean those three hours before a game starts, that’s the most fun three hours that we have. And that’s totally changed now. I mean we’re going to be in separate booths, how about that? But yeah, we are built around routines. We were as players, we certainly are as broadcasters. And that routine is shattered and we’ll just have to figure it out.”

[RELATED: Posey has support of Kapler, Giants]

And that brings us to what will be missing this season, that cannot be replaced. The fans. While the games will go on, Krukow knows they won’t be the same down at 3rd and King.

“That’s going to be the worst part of this whole thing," Krukow said. "The energy from our fans in San Francisco is something that, I don’t care how tired you are, when you walk in that ballpark, the electricity in the yard fills you up and we all count on it. Players count on it, we count on it. Everybody. All the fans count on it. It is going to be odd.”

But hey, at least there will be fan cut-outs in the stands at Oracle Park, and you better believe, if someone’s face gets knocked down by a foul ball, Kruk & Kuip still will be ruthless, in the best way possible.