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Rob Manfred’s ‘optimistic’ view for MLB is to ramp up ‘at some point’ in May

Rob Manfred’s ‘optimistic’ view for MLB is to ramp up ‘at some point’ in May

Commissioner Rob Manfred struck a measured and optimistic tone late Wednesday during an interview with ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt.

What everyone wants to know, but cannot answer, is when the baseball season may begin. Dozens of variables exist, not the least of which is the unpredictable nature of the timeline around containment of the coronavirus. Van Pelt asked Manfred what he hopes could happen in terms of a schedule.

“My optimistic outlook is that at some point in May we’ll be gearing back up,” Manfred said. “We’ll have to make a determination depending on what the precise date is as to how much of a preparation period we need, whether that preparation period is going to be done in the club’s home cities or back in Florida and Arizona. And, again, I think the goal would be to get as many regular season games as possible and think creatively about how we can accomplish that goal.”

Manfred spoke with Van Pelt the night before Opening Day was originally scheduled. Major League Baseball twice suspended operations this spring because of coronavirus. Spring training games were stopped March 12 and the opening of the season was to be delayed for two weeks. Manfred moved the hiatus to at least eight weeks, making mid-May the earliest possible time to start. If teams are reassembling in mid-May, then the season wouldn’t begin until June.

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said earlier in the week a reboot would be necessary.

“I think it depends how long the layoff is,” Rizzo said. “I certainly think there will need to be a ramp-up period, a spring training period before we play any regular season games.”

Washington’s players are scattered. Thirteen remained in West Palm Beach at the team’s spring training facility. Rizzo and Davey Martinez also stayed there. Medical and training teams are in Florida, too. A trio of other players, Ryan Zimmerman among them, returned to Washington. The rest are at their homes.

“The uncertainty is how do you get ready for a date that you don’t know is coming?” Rizzo said. “What we’ve asked them to do is for pitchers to keep their arms in shape, return to their offseason throwing programs so we can ramp up quicker as spring training starts as a prelude to Opening Day, whenever that is. We set forth a personal workout baseball plan for all our players to hit the ground running so when they do get to camp, we should be ready to expedite a spring training atmosphere quicker than the norm. We already had a couple weeks of spring training. We’re trying to keep them at that level that they left camp here. Hopefully we can continue, and that would be our step-off portion when spring training starts [as a] prelude to Opening Day.”

The worst-case scenario is Opening Day 2020 never comes. Manfred conceded that is out of his control, stressing the safety of everyone involved in baseball remains the priority.

“It would be a tremendous hardship,” Manfred said. “It would be a hardship for our fans. It’d be a hardship for our players. And, frankly, it would be a huge economic hardship for our owners. It would be a real tragedy. But the one thing I know for sure is baseball will be back. Whenever it’s safe to play, we’ll be back. Our fans will be back. Our players will be back. And we will be part of the recovery and healing in our country.”

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Max Scherzer is sort of OK with no longer hitting

Max Scherzer is sort of OK with no longer hitting

A multitude of markers spanned the 2019 Nationals season. From 19-31, to Kurt Suzuki’s walk-off home run against the New York Mets, to the postseason rallies.

Max Scherzer’s busted face is also among the easy things to remember about 2019. He was starting batting practice with bunts on June 18. This is standard for every hitter. First the bunts, then the swings. Pitchers tend to practice this more for obvious reasons.

Scherzer butchered a bunt -- later admitting he was trying to mess with third base coach Bob Henley, who was pitching -- and the ball kicked up into his face. His nose burst. Henley looked on aghast. Scherzer walked to the dugout, then the clubhouse with blood leaking from his face and confusion following him.

A day later, he pitched against Philadelphia with the broken nose, marching around the mound with brown, blue and black eyes. His 10th strikeout of the night came on a slider, ended the seventh inning and sent him into a celebratory spin.

He will not hit, or practice hitting, this year.

The designated hitter will be used in the National League for the first time. Scherzer will no longer bat, which means one of his favorite activities is going away. But, the rules of the sport will finally be unified during its championship series, something he has long advocated for.


“Especially this year, given the nature of what we are looking at here, this is an interesting time to have the league under one set of rules to see what this looks like,” Scherzer told NBC Sports Washington. “Does it open up new opportunities we didn’t even think about?”

If Scherzer never hits again, he will finish with a .193 batting average. He hit one home run. It came in 2017 against Chris O'Grady of the Miami Marlins. Scherzer ran around the bases with a smile on his face, then was initially ignored in the dugout.

He was one of the few pitchers who practiced hitting on a regular basis. Scherzer also liked to attempt stolen bases if he reached and was not held on at first base. This gave Davey Martinez significant stress. Scherzer stole three bases and was never caught. It would be a fun footnote on his coming Hall of Fame plaque.


In general, Scherzer is intrigued by the rules tests and changes of 2020. He was adamant in spring training the playoff format should not be changed. He’s withholding his current opinion -- for now -- on placing a runner at second base to start extra innings.

“Kind of with this realignment, where we play the NL East and the AL East, it’s a very fascinating, to me, and very exciting divisional format of how teams are going to be playing across the country,” Scherzer said. “Is that good or bad? I don’t know. We’ve got to see. Is that worth changing the rules of the game, where we’re at going forward? I don’t know. That remains to be seen as well. For me, I’m just going to appreciate what 2020 is and what it’s going to bring and what we’ve got to do to go out there and compete and win.”

In his case, that no longer includes hitting.

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Exclusive: Max Scherzer talks 'ugly' negotiations and 'crazy' MLB season ahead

Exclusive: Max Scherzer talks 'ugly' negotiations and 'crazy' MLB season ahead

Max Scherzer gathered the kids and came up to Washington this week because there was finally a reason to do so.

Wednesday marked the opening of Spring Training 2.0. Friday, the first baseball workouts since the sport came to a hard stop March 12 are scheduled to take place. July 23 is expected to be Opening Day. Baseball, at least in framework, is back.

Which is why Scherzer returned to the District. He remained in West Palm Beach, Fla., after organized baseball stopped. Workouts happened six days a week thanks to a throwing partner and bands and weights taken from the minor-league side of the spring training facility before it closed. He typically does not have a home gym to use. But, he found a way to manipulate things in Florida in order to stay on track month after month.

As a member of the union’s eight-person executive subcommittee, he also spent a lot of time involved in the negotiations -- “sparring” is a more accurate word -- between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association. The process dribbled into the public, caused myriad eye rolls, and generally left everyone dissatisfied. In the end, the original agreement from March 26 was adhered to. A short season is coming. Two brutish winters will follow.

“I think at the forefront [of negotiations] was hey, we had an agreement, we wanted to honor that,” Scherzer told NBC Sports Washington on Wednesday. “There was no reason we thought to make a separate deal because we made a deal after the pandemic had started. For us, it was about trying to execute that deal as best as possible.”


Why did it take three grouse-filled months to arrive at a place they were already at?

“Because the business of the game is never pretty,” Scherzer said. “It’s always ugly. If it ever gets into the public, it’s always going to be ugly, and obviously it did get into the public. There’s nothing we can do about that. There’s never just an easy fight about the business of the game. It’s always going to be testy, it’s always going to be like that. The best thing we can do is keep that out of the public, but unfortunately, that’s not what happened.”

Scherzer was moved enough by the head-butting dynamics to send three tweets. He so rarely uses his official account to reach its 322,997 followers, he had to reset his password so he could login.

But, the only result of a public debate was a distaste for the process. Especially amid a pandemic and country-wide protests. Squabbling over money benefited no one.

At first, health was the prime point of the negotiations. How would the league protect the players? Would the players accept the protocol and risk? Did anything else matter if optimum protections were not in place? What, exactly, was everyone dealing with here?

Those concepts seemed to fade, usurped by a debate about money. The coronavirus pandemic hit a lull, then rebooted, and is now rumbling through Florida, Texas, Arizona, California and other states in a way it was not before. Accordingly, health returned as a paramount discussion point between the sides, and a question was finally addressed: should there even be a season?

“I think the ‘should be’ question we were trying to wrestle with was just to make sure that we can put on a league and really feel confident that we were going to be safe,” Scherzer said. “And the foremost answer to that was the testing. Make sure that if we were getting tested at a high enough frequency, it really clears a lot of big hurdles out of the way for us. The testing, as good as it is, it’s not perfect. So, it’s also going to take protocols by players themselves on and off the field to make sure we can continue to play baseball in the safest way possible.”

It wasn’t safe enough for some. Joe Ross and Ryan Zimmerman decided they would not play this season.

“I respect their decisions,” Scherzer said. “This is a personal decision for everybody. I understand where they are coming from. So, at the end of the day, I get it. This is a nasty thing that’s going around. For some people, the comfort level is just not there and I respect it. For the guys who do choose [to play], that’s great. And we’ll just have the team go forward and try to win this year.”


Scherzer said he never considered not playing. Instead, he will be at the park to be tested, try to build his innings (he says he has a couple in him now and will be “ready to compete” when the season starts), and manage an uncertain situation as best as possible. There is nothing normal coming up. Understanding that becomes crucial.

“It’s going to be crazy, it’s going to be hard, it’s going to be difficult,” Scherzer said. “We’re going to say that every single day. So, just get used to it and realize every team has to go through that. That’s what it’s going to take to win the World Series this year. A team that can battle through this together and make sure they do the protocols the best way possible and keep their team healthy seems to have the best chance to win.

“I think at the end of day, that’s what we’re all signing up to do, to continue to play baseball and we’re very fortunate to continue to play baseball in the middle of this pandemic. A lot of people have done a lot of work to make this happen. So it’s our duty to go out there and play baseball at the highest level possible.”

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