As a result of the nationwide COVID-19 outbreak, the Mariners will not play their regular season-opening homestand, which includes four games versus the division-rival Rangers and three games against the Twins, at T-Mobile Park in Seattle later this month. That announcement came via a team statement on Wednesday shortly after Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced a ban on large gatherings and events - including sporting events and concerts - in excess of 250 people in the Seattle metropolitan area in an attempt to prevent further spread of the coronavirus. The World Health Organization (WHO) officially classified the COVID-19 viral outbreak as a global pandemic on Wednesday, with cases now reported in 114 countries. According to the WHO, eight countries (including the United States) have reported more than 1,000 COVID-19 cases and nearly 120,000 people have been infected worldwide.
According to the Mariners’ statement, the team is “working with the Major League Baseball Office of the Commissioner on alternative plans for our games that were scheduled for the end of March at T-Mobile Park in Seattle. While we hope to be back to playing baseball in Seattle as soon as possible, the health and safety of our community is the most important consideration.” No formal announcement has been made regarding where those games will ultimately be played, but Evan Drellich of The Athletic reported on Tuesday evening that his sources familiar with the contingency plans say the Mariners could temporarily play their home games at the team’s spring training facility in Peoria, Arizona.
Meanwhile, the Giants also announced in a team statement on Wednesday that they will not play their upcoming exhibition contest against the Athletics at Oracle Park in San Francisco on March 24. That decision came shortly after the City and County of San Francisco issued a directive prohibiting major public gatherings for the next two weeks.
It feels almost inevitable that even more cities beyond Seattle and San Francisco will be impacted by the ongoing public health crisis -- perhaps the entire league itself -- after the NBA officially suspended their 2019-2020 season on Wednesday night in the wake of Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert testing positive for COVID-19. According to a brief announcement, the NBA "will use the hiatus to determine next steps moving forward." Prior to the latest development with the NBA, Major League Baseball has previously stated that they expect to begin the impending 2020 campaign as originally planned. “While MLB recognizes the fluidity of this rapidly evolving situation, our current intention is to play spring training and regular-season games as scheduled,” the league said in a statement earlier this week.
According to a tweet from ESPN’s Jeff Passan on Wednesday evening, “Major League Baseball continues to consider its options but as of now remains committed to playing spring-training and regular-season games and is not at the point where it plans to stage games in front of no fans because of coronavirus concerns.” Passan also added via tweet that “MLB has a league-wide conference call scheduled for Friday.” It’s worth noting that Passan’s tweets came shortly before the NBA announced its decision. Clearly, this situation is escalating at a rapid pace. The health and safety of players, fans and communities are the most serious considerations right now. It’s becoming apparent that we should prepare for MLB and its franchises to begin taking extreme precautions moving forward, which could potentially even include indefinitely delaying the start of the regular season.
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Nationals Lineup Taking Shape
According to reports out of Nationals camp on Wednesday, the defending World Series champions are leaning towards using Trea Turner, Adam Eaton, Starlin Castro and Juan Soto in the top four spots in their Opening Day lineup. Nationals manager Dave Martinez was originally eyeing using Victor Robles in the leadoff spot, which would shift Turner back to the third spot. He’s also previously mentioned the idea of slotting Soto into the third spot in the lineup, formerly occupied by veteran third baseman Anthony Rendon. Martinez also said he plans on having Kurt Suzuki handle Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez with Yan Gomes taking the remainder of the catching duties.
Clearly, the largest beneficiary from the proposed arrangement would be Castro, who inked a two-year, $12 million contract this offseason. The 29-year-old veteran infielder is slated to serve as the Nationals primary second baseman after hitting .302/.334/.558 with 16 home runs and 52 RBI over 74 games in the second half of last season as a member of the bottom-feeding Marlins. Sure, he was utterly wretched in the first half of the 2019 campaign, but the Nationals seem confident that his second-half surge was real. There’s still a remote possibility that Robles could work his way back into the leadoff spot, but this development poses a serious impediment to the 22-year-old outfielder’s chances of emerging as a potential five-category fantasy force this season. He may experience an uptick in stolen base opportunities, but that won’t be enough to offset the precipitous decline in the runs scored and RBI departments, especially if he’s permanently buried at the bottom of the order.
American League Quick Hits: Angels manager Joe Maddon told reporters on Wednesday that the club is in the process of formulating a plan for utilizing two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani as a pitcher on Wednesdays this season. The 25-year-old righty is expected to make his season debut as a pitcher in mid-May … Red Sox interim manager Ron Roenicke told reporters on Wednesday that Chris Sale will not begin throwing until he’s “absolutely pain free.” The 30-year-old left-hander remains sidelined with a flexor strain in his left arm and will be re-evaluated in 10-14 days … Rays left-hander Blake Snell (elbow) told reporters that he felt good after playing catch on Wednesday. The 27-year-old lefty will throw a simulated game on Saturday … Indians GM Chris Antonetti thinks it’s unlikely right-hander Carlos Carrasco (elbow inflammation) will be ready for the start of the season … Jose Berrios will be the Twins’ Opening Day starter … Royals manager Mike Matheny might not name Ian Kennedy or anyone else his closer prior to Opening Day … Yankees lefty James Paxton played catch on Wednesday and reportedly came away from the session pain-free. He also indicated afterwards that the best-case scenario for his return from back surgery is mid-May … Twins outfielder Byron Buxton took batting practice for the second consecutive day on Wednesday … Yankees left-hander Zack Britton didn’t suffer a broken wrist after he was hit by a line-drive during batting practice on Wednesday … Danny Jansen launched his fourth homer of the spring in the Blue Jays’ blowout win over the Orioles … Eduardo Rodriguez recorded 10 strikeouts over four shutout innings in a Cactus League start against the Rays … Kyle Tucker will make his spring debut at first base on Thursday against the Nationals … According to Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times, Carlos Gonzalez remains unlikely to make the Mariners as a reserve outfielder … The Rangers are reportedly placing Yohander Mendez on the suspended list for seeking unauthorized medical attention.
National League Quick Hits: According to the Mets, Michael Conforto has been diagnosed with a Grade 1 oblique strain. The 27-year-old outfielder hasn't been ruled out for Opening Day, but a mid-April return seems much more realistic … Johnny Cueto has officially been named the Giants’ Opening Day starter … Cubs manager David Ross told reporters on Wednesday that either Yu Darvish or Kyle Hendricks will be their Opening Day starter … Paul Goldschmidt continues to deal with elbow soreness and will be shut down for at least a couple of days … Joc Pederson (oblique, hip) could return to Cactus League action next week … Stephen Strasburg tossed five innings of one-run ball on Wednesday in Grapefruit League start against the Astros … Carlos Martinez was lit up for six earned runs over 3 2/3 innings in his Grapefruit League start on Wednesday versus the Mets … Jacob deGrom hurled four innings of one-run ball in a Grapefruit League start against the Cardinals … J.D. Davis went 2-for-4 with a homer and three RBI in that contest … Austin Slater went 2-for-3 with a pair of RBI to propel the Giants to a victory over the Rangers in a rain-shortened, five-inning Cactus League contest … Max Fried issued five walks over 4 2/3 scoreless frames in a Grapefruit League start against the Twins … Cal Quantrill hurled three no-hit innings in a Cactus League start against the Cubs … Yu Darvish whiffed four batters over three innings of one-run ball in a Cactus League start against the Padres … Walker Buehler allowed one run over four innings in a Cactus League start against the Brewers … Dinelson Lamet recorded three strikeouts over four scoreless frames in a Cactus League start against the Mariners … Freddy Peralta posted eight strikeouts over 4 1/3 innings in a Cactus League start against the Dodgers … Mark Saxon of The Athletic reported Wednesday that the Cardinals and Yadier Molina are working on a contract extension … According to NBCSPhilly’s Jim Salisbury, Seranthony Dominguez experienced a setback with his recovery from a UCL tear during his appearance last Sunday … Rockies manager Bud Black told reporters that there are no results yet on Peter Lambert's tests on his right forearm … Mike Leake threw five innings in a simulated game on Wednesday … Freddie Freeman is scheduled to rejoin the Braves’ lineup on Friday … Luis Urias (wrist) will make his Cactus League debut on Thursday. The 22-year-old infielder underwent surgery in January to repair a fractured left hamate bone.