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Here’s what you need to know about MLB’s health-and-safety manual

Here’s what you need to know about MLB’s health-and-safety manual

Health has circled back as the prime concern of the 2020 Major League Baseball season. The league has put together an extensive, but imperfect, operations manual to try to manage the game during the coronavirus pandemic. There is a large reliance on individuals to take care of daily tasks, few enforcement mechanisms and no threshold for the ultimate question: what would compel the league to stop the season once it starts?

The complications ahead were defined Tuesday. Minutes after the Major League Baseball Players Association announced a deal was reached, a report came out that Charlie Blackmon of the Colorado Rockies had tested positive for coronavirus. Wednesday, when everyone was digesting the 101-page document, news emerged that a Miami Marlins player and staff member tested positive.

The expectation is not for zero positive tests. It is for maximum mitigation. The operations manual stipulates who can go where, what can be used, what happens if someone tests positive (but not what happens if that occurs in the middle of a game).

It even has a section for in-plane lavatory use.

Here are the highlights from the document:

-- People necessary for games are divided into three tiers. Tier 1 includes players. They will be tested every other day for coronavirus, mostly by saliva tests, plus have their temperature checked twice a day at the park. They are expected to check their temperature and fill out an updated “symptom and exposure questionnaire” about their health at the same time every day before leaving their residence.

-- Tests results are expected in 24-48 hours via the league’s lab in Salt Lake City, Utah, which is typically reserved for doping tests.

-- Players are discouraged but not “prohibited” from showering on site. The manual recommends removing every other shower head or handle and constructing full dividers between showers.

-- Using a sauna is prohibited.


-- Cold and hot tubs -- originally expected to not be allowed -- are, but under strict circumstances. Only one player may use the tub at a time, it can only occur before or after a game, and stainless steel tubs must be drained, disinfected, and re-filled after each individual use. Plus this, “Players must wear a cloth mask over a standard surgical mask while using hydrotherapy and cryotherapy units to ensure that the efficacy of masks is not diminished due to moisture exposure.”

-- MLB says it will “strictly enforce” compliance of all outlined social-distancing, testing and general health protocols. However, it does not provide a consequence should a violation occur.

-- On the field, the designated hitter will be used in both leagues.

-- Pitchers will receive a wet rag for grip and to prevent them from licking their fingers. “Water is the only substance allowed on the rag.” Former major-league reliever Jeff Nelson immediately tweeted, “Good luck hitters. Water won’t be the only thing on that rag.”

-- The three-batter minimum is in place.


-- There will be no pregame exchange of lineup cards.

-- Players, umpires and other on-field personnel are expected to practice physical distancing “to the extent possible.”

-- First and third base coaches “should remain in or behind the Coach’s Box and shall not approach a baserunner, fielder or umpire on-field.”

-- All non-playing personnel must wear face coverings at all times in the dugout and bullpen.

-- Spitting is prohibited.

-- Any baseball that is put in play and touched by multiple players will be removed and exchanged for a new baseball. After an out, players are strongly discouraged from throwing the ball around the infield.

-- Fighting and instigating fights “are strictly prohibited.” And if there is a fight? “Violation of these rules will result in severe discipline consistent with past precedent, which discipline shall not be reduced or prorated based on the length of the season.”

-- There will be a separate COVID-19 related injured list.

The document goes on. It answers dozens of small questions. It represents hope for a season. It guarantees nothing.

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Stephen Strasburg’s debut shows he still has a ways to go

Stephen Strasburg’s debut shows he still has a ways to go

WASHINGTON -- Elegant pitching took place in the top of the fourth inning Sunday when Anthony Santander led off the inning.

Stephen Strasburg threw him a 79-mph curveball for a called strike. An 87-mph changeup was a ball. Another changeup produced a swinging strike. A third consecutive changeup led to another swinging strike and an out.

Strasburg needed just 43 pitches to finish four innings in his season debut. The problem was he went to pitch the fifth -- and that his achy right hand still has mild issues.

He recorded one out, faded rapidly and was removed after allowing five sudden runs. The hook was too late. The Nationals fell behind, 5-0, and were on the verge of a weekend sweep at the hands of the Orioles and a troublesome 4-8 record before the game was suspended because of oddball circumstances with a malfunctioning tarp.

“You can look at the negative, or you can look at the positive,” Strasburg said. “I think there was a lot more positives. I'm just going to focus on that. Obviously command and execution wasn't very good there in the fifth. They just hit a bunch of singles and found the right spots. So they made me pay for it.”

Strasburg’s start came two weeks after he was supposed to be on the game mound for the first time in 2020. A right wrist impingement caused a nerve problem in his right hand, which led to pain in his thumb. All of the issues with the hand subsided after time off and treatment. He threw a bullpen session Wednesday. Sunday, “Seven Nation Army” poured out of the stadium speakers for the first time this season.

The first four innings showed a pitcher with lowered velocity, but exceptional command. In essence, Strasburg looked like himself. Plenty of curveballs, changeups and outs. Of his 69 pitches, 37 were curveballs or changeups.


Javy Guerra quickly worked to warm up when Strasburg faltered in the fifth inning. The first out of the inning came on a 101.1-mph line drive from Dwight Smith Jr. It was a harbinger.

Austin Hays hit a line drive to right field. Chance Sisco hit a line drive to right field. Davey Martinez and trainer Paul Lessard came up the dugout steps to head toward the mound because Strasburg shook his right hand. Strasburg waived them back to their spots, though there was an issue.

“To be honest, I felt it,” Strasburg said of his hand pain. “I don't know if it was necessarily like fatigue or just not having necessarily the stamina built up quite yet. But it's something where I don't think I'm doing any long-term harm on it. But it does have an impact on being able to feel the baseball and being able to commit to pitches. That's something I haven't quite figured out how to pitch through it yet, so I think the goal is to continue to get built up and get the pitch count up to where that won't be flaring up over the course of the start.”

He walked the next batter. Pitching coach Paul Menhart went to talk to him. This, presumably, is when Strasburg should have been removed from the game. He was left in.

Bryan Holaday singled. A run scored. Hanser Alberto doubled. Two runs scored. Santander singled. Two runs scored.

Guerre came in. Strasburg departed.

The good news is Strasburg finally made a start in 2020. And, Max Scherzer is expected to return to the mound on Tuesday in New York.

The bad news is 25 percent of Strasburg’s potential starts are over. Starting pitchers were only in line for 12 this year. He missed two, then failed in the fifth inning in what would have been his third start. That gives him nine to go -- if the season makes it to the end -- with a hand that isn’t quite right.


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Davey Martinez defends Nationals' grounds crew following tarp snafu

Davey Martinez defends Nationals' grounds crew following tarp snafu

Sunday's matchup between the Nationals and Orioles came to a halt in the sixth inning due to a brief rainstorm, but the game was delayed and eventually suspended after the grounds crew had multiple issues unraveling the tarp to cover the infield.

For much of the rainfall, the infield and pitcher's mound in Nationals Park were exposed. As the rain continued to fall, the dirt turned into slushy mud.

Despite the grounds crew's inability to properly cover the field, which ended up being the reason for the game's suspension, Nationals manager Davey Martinez refused to place blame on the crew.

"Feel bad for our grounds crew," Martinez said to reporters after the game was called off. "Personally, these guys, to me, are the best if not one of the best. Unfortunate that that happened."


The whole situation was a perfect metaphor for 2020 as a whole, a year of chaos and unexpected twists and turns, mostly in a negative fashion.

While Sunday's game came to a finish prematurely, Martinez said all his team can do is keep moving forward and be ready to play the New York Mets on Monday at Citi Field.

"There’s going to be days when you don’t know what to expect. This is part of it," Martinez said. "So, we just got to keep moving on. At the end of the game, I told the guys, pack up, we’re going to New York. Get ready to play [Monday]. That’s all we can do."

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