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Report: Nationals among teams to release minor leaguers amid coronavirus pandemic

Report: Nationals among teams to release minor leaguers amid coronavirus pandemic

The Nationals are among many teams that cut a portion of its minor-league ranks as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, TheScore’s Robert Murray reported Thursday.

According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, "hundreds" of minor leaguers lost their jobs Thursday as talks continue between MLB and its players union over the parameters for a salvaged 2020 season.

Although both sides maintain optimism that an MLB season will be played this summer, the fact that it would begin without fans in attendance is an indication that the minor-league season—of which teams rely almost entirely on ticket sales and concessions for revenue—is likely lost.

MLB teams agreed in March to pay their minor-league players $400 a week through May 31. However, as many teams have announced series of pay cuts, furloughs and lay offs for their employees over the past few weeks, it started to look inevitable that the minor leaguers would be a casualty of the virus’s economic ramifications once the agreement expired.

The last few weeks of spring training leading up to Opening Day typically see a significant number of minor-league players cut loose after failing to make team rosters. Since no team had the chance to narrow down its list of players before coronavirus forced the suspension of spring training, many of the players released may have already been candidates to get let go.

However, the sheer number of players that are now unemployed is unprecedented. While the released players are now free agents and free to sign with any club, it’s unlikely many teams bring on new players while the pandemic continues to grip the country.

At the very least until the league and MLBPA—which doesn't represent players in the minors—reach an agreement on how to proceed with the 2020 season, those minor-league players are going to have to find income through another job.

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Nationals Scene and Heard: Team has a staff member opt-out

Nationals Scene and Heard: Team has a staff member opt-out

WASHINGTON -- Tuesday night was a quieter one in Nationals Park. Multiple members of the bullpen pitched against the same hitters over and over in what was less an intrasquad game and more drill work.

Will Harris, Daniel Hudson, Javy Guerra, Aaron Barrett, Kevin Quackenbush and Ryne Harper pitched. Trea Turner, Adam Eaton, Starlin Castro, Carter Kieboom and Eric Thames hit the most.

So, let’s get started with what was going on at the park:

-- Davey Martinez announced Tuesday night that batting practice pitcher Ali Modami has opted out of the 2020 season. Modami throws BP as a left-handed pitcher, but he’s also one of the fixtures at the park since joining the team in 2011.

His initial work was often with Bryce Harper in the batting cages before games. Modami always pitched to Harper, who did not take BP on the field. Overall, Modami threw a massive amount of pitches on a daily basis to whomever was ready to swing.

Modami added good-luck charm to his duties in 2019 when he was tasked with carrying the lineup card to home plate Friday, May 24, when the Nationals were 19-31 and staggered home from New York. They won -- in sloppy fashion -- that night. Modami went out the next day, and every day from then on.

You might also remember him as Brian Dozier’s celebratory transportation in the dugout. Modami is another part of a would-be normal situation who will not be around in 2020.

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-- A staffer who is back is hitting coach Kevin Long. Tuesday night was his first in Nationals Park since intake testing which forced him into quarantine.

“I know he had a mask on, but he was smiling ear to ear,” Martinez said. “He was dying to come back, and he’s back now. That’s one guy we got back. Hopefully, we get the rest of the guys back soon.”

-- Wednesday marks two weeks since intake testing began. The Nationals performed rolling testing the first week of “Summer Camp” and eight players have not been seen since. Among them are Juan Soto, Victor Robles and Howie Kendrick.

Martinez said recently the team is following District-mandated protocols -- which are more stringent than the ones put in place by MLB’s operations manual -- when deciding who will come back.

If any of the players went into quarantine July 1 or 2, they are nearing the end of their 14-day stay in such isolation. So, are they close to joining the team just three days before the exhibition game and eight before the start of the season?

“Honestly, I don’t know that answer,” Martinez said. “Every morning I wake up, all I can do is ask my medical staff, ‘Are they coming?’ and they give me a no. Hopefully, one of these days when I wake up and ask if they are coming, they give me a yes. That’s all I can say about it. I do know we can’t wait to get all these guys back and be in full force. Hopefully it will be soon.”

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-- Harris worked a clean inning Tuesday. His recovery from a spring-time abdominal strain is complete and he often worked from a mound in Baton Rouge while everyone waited for the season to begin. Tuesday was the first time he’s faced hitters since the 2019 World Series.

“I’ve thrown a lot of bullpens,” Harris said. “The reps are there, as far as just pitching and my arm. It’s just now getting the feedback from hitters and basically the validation of, OK, my stuff is doing what I think it’s supposed to be doing and I’m getting the swings I’m accustomed to getting. I got to have a bigger sample size, but with all the technology today you can pretty much know where you’re at pretty quickly. So, me throwing [Tuesday], I’ll take a look at it [Wednesday] when I get here, make sure my stuff’s doing what I’m accustomed to it doing, if it’s not, figure it out before my next outing.”

-- A quick Harris quip about the idea he might be used frequently at the start of the season. “If you don’t want to throw 18 times in a month, give up some runs and you won’t throw 18 times in a month.”

-- The Nationals worked on preparation for the new extra-innings rule this season which will place a runner on second base to start the 10th inning. They immediately tried a “daylight” pickoff play -- when the shortstop cuts in behind a runner leading off second, the catcher signals there is space, or “daylight”, between the fielder and runner, and the pitcher pivots for a pickoff attempt. Tuesday was the first time they started to fold this into their daily routine.

-- Martinez said to-go meals are prepared at the end of workouts so players and staff can leave with food and go straight home.

“We’re making it a point for these guys, when you leave here, you’re pretty much going to a hotel or you’re going to your place that you have and you’re staying in,” Martinez said. “If we’re really going to do this and keep everybody safe, I tell these guys all the time, you can’t be messing around. You’ve got to really take it seriously. One, I don’t want to get sick. Two, I don’t want anybody else around here getting sick. You’ve got to be smart about everything we do.”

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Former Astros RP Will Harris dons ‘District of Champions’ T-shirt for Nationals press conference

Former Astros RP Will Harris dons ‘District of Champions’ T-shirt for Nationals press conference

Will Harris may have been the pitcher who served up Howie Kendrick’s go-ahead home run in Game 7 of last fall’s World Series, but he apparently isn’t holding any grudges about the outcome.

Harris, who spent five years with the Houston Astros before signing a three-year deal with the Nationals over the winter, sat down for a Zoom press conference Tuesday in what his first chance to speak with the media since Summer Camp began. He wore a T-shirt that was a bit surprising for a player who was on the losing end of Washington’s title run.

The shirt reads “District of Champions,” a nod to D.C. winning titles in MLB, NHL and WNBA over the last three years. To his credit, Harris hasn’t shied away from talking about his performance in Game 7.

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“Look, I took the L in Game 7, that’s never gonna change,” Harris said on MLB Network in January. “But at the same time, I plan on winning my next Game 7 and I plan on winning more World Series, and I think Washington is a place I can do that.”

As if there was any doubt before, it appears that Harris has completely committed to his ballclub and D.C. as a sports town.

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