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When is baseball back?: Progress made, but is anyone asking if they should play?

When is baseball back?: Progress made, but is anyone asking if they should play?

Progress is being made and the fate of the Major League Baseball season is becoming more clear.

Commissioner Rob Manfred flew to Arizona on Tuesday to meet with MLBPA executive director Tony Clark. Their conversation, seemingly, was productive.

“At my request, Tony Clark and I met for several hours yesterday in Phoenix,” Manfred in a statement. “We left that meeting with a jointly developed framework that we agreed could form the basis of an agreement and subject to conversations with our respective constituents. I summarized that framework numerous times in the meeting and sent Tony a written summary today. Consistent with our conversations yesterday, I am encouraging the Clubs to move forward and I trust Tony is doing the same.”

The gathering framework looks like this:

-- Opening Day should fall somewhere between July 15-20
-- The season will probably move toward 66 games or so
-- The players will receive their full prorated salaries
-- The postseason will include 16 teams this season and next
-- The universal DH will be used (and is likely here to stay)
-- Both sides agree not to file a grievance
-- The regular season ends Sept. 27
-- The expanded playoffs finish by the end of October

Why did this take so long? That’s one question. Another, and seemingly forgotten one, is should this be happening?

Baseball has skipped this question. At no point in these perpetual back-and-forths has one side questioned whether the process should be proceeding. And, the biggest detriment to a successful season -- no matter the games played -- remains the same virus which prompted all of this in the first place.

Coronavirus still hovers over the top of MLB. It’s rarely mentioned anymore, and the health protocol plans of all this have not been clarified since the original 67-page document was released, questioned and reworked a month ago.

RELATED: SEVERAL MLB PLAYERS HAVE REPORTEDLY TESTED POSITIVE FOR COVID-19

Recent case spikes in Florida and Arizona have caused teams to rethink their spring training plans. The Houston Astros opened FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches for individual, spaced-out, workouts May 25. Ten days later, the team announced they would hold spring training in Houston, if there were to be one. The move was a harbinger. The Nationals never reopened their side of the park for workouts despite multiple players remaining near West Palm Beach. Now, it appears most, if not all, teams will run Spring Training 2.0 in their home parks.

The rise of positive cases in several states reminds what an enormous logistical complication is still ahead. Major League Baseball is the only league attempting to criss-cross states, leaving one place with a flattened curve for one with a spike, then returning. How are elected officials who recently entered forward phases going to feel about that concept? For example: If the Nationals play their interleague games by division, along with their regular division schedule in a 66-game season, they will face a New York team 15 times (12 games against the Mets, three games against the Yankees). That’s almost a quarter of the season.

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And, what happens to the cities with a spike? Do games stop there? Do the teams come to the opposing park? Can MLB pivot that fast? Those questions are not answered.

Tiered protocols of who can go where, who can see players in-person and who is allowed into the stadiums will be in place. Masks will -- hopefully -- be prevalent. Between the teams, personnel and media, every game will be a gathering of at least 100 people. A 66-game season would result in 989 total games. Baseball will be on the tightrope almost every day for three months.

The risk acceptance seems to be complete even if other aspects of an agreement are not. Players are demanding “when and where” from boxed-in owners. The league has never appeared to consider not playing because of the pandemic. Manfred led the self-congratulatory idea of baseball as a savior not long after it shut down. He twice guaranteed a season last week. Meanwhile, the caseloads shifted, the country protested, and the dynamics changed. None of it appears to have complicated the idea of moving forward for anyone involved.

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Nationals are off to season’s most dangerous spot: the road

Nationals are off to season’s most dangerous spot: the road

WASHINGTON  -- The Nationals ventured to their chartered train Sunday for a first: They were leaving Nationals Park to play a regular-season game elsewhere in 2020. This is a new challenge in a year filled with randomization.

The road is a bedeviling place in professional sports no matter the climate. Favorite places of all kinds -- restaurants, hotels, entertainment venues -- pull athletes from their hotel into the city streets. It’s standard. Among the running jokes in the NBA is players coming down with the South Beach Flu. Go to Miami the night before a game, play poorly the next, perhaps you caught it while out until 3 a.m.

For Major League Baseball in 2020, traveling has become the greatest barrier to the season’s completion. Organizations are petrified of an outbreak prompted by one person venturing into the night while on the road. Or even in the morning when visiting a cafe for breakfast.

The Nationals will first tangle with road protocols -- set both internally and by MLB -- this week in New York. A four-game series with the Mets will test their ability to sit still. Staying in the hotel is job one. A special guard was even considered in order to make it happen.

“I’m going to put [Mike] Rizzo in the lobby,” Davey Martinez said with a laugh.

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That, presumably, would be an effective deterrent to anyone who stepped out of the elevator, then into the lobby, coming face-to-face with the team president’s bald head. But, the job will be handled by MLB security, which is now in the hotels of road teams to watch the coming and going of players and staff following the coronavirus outbreak within the Miami Marlins organization. The rest is up to the Nationals.

“When you go on the road, you get in a routine: your favorite places to eat breakfast, your favorite places to go get coffee,” Martinez said. “There’s going to be none of that. And, that’s going to be tough. We got to adhere to the protocols. In order to keep everybody safe, we’ve got to stay in the hotel. So there’s going to be different things that we need to do. There’s not going to be any gallivanting around the city anymore. A lot of these cities, honestly, are pretty much closed down and there’s not a whole lot going on.

“We’ve got to be smart. If we’re going to pull this off and keep everybody safe, the best thing is to stay in the hotel and chill. There’s going to be plenty of food -- from what I gather -- at the ballpark. We’ve got restaurants that are going to cook for us. We’ll have lunch, we’re going to have dinner after the game. I think now we just got to feed ourselves for breakfast. I’m hearing that the hotels are going to be open for breakfast for room service, but we’ve got to do whatever we can to stay safe.”

One issue will be the pull to see family in different places. Juan Soto has family in New York. Several players have family in the Miami area. When Martinez returns to Tampa in mid-September, his adult children already know they won’t be meeting in order to protect his safety and that of the team.

“They understand,” Martinez said. “Hopefully, when this is all over, I’ll spend a lot of time with them.”

RELATED: STEPHEN STRASBURG'S DEBUT SHOWS HE STILL HAS A WAYS TO GO

He and Rizzo have trumpeted the same point from the start: what happens away from the field impacts everyone who goes to it. So, stay home, do your part, do not be the single lit match.

Testing negative, keeping the house in order, and playing on has both become a point of pride and competition. The Nationals enter the week with only one positive test result since play began -- that belonged to Soto, and he thought it was a false positive -- and the league’s worst offense. Without their best hitter, Washington has gone through a season-long scoring drought. Only the St. Louis Cardinals have scored fewer runs. They have also played seven fewer games because of a coronavirus outbreak in their organization.

“It's a new baseball season that we've never had before,” Rizzo said. “There's protocols in place that kind of break the routine that we've had our whole careers and our whole lives. So the team that adapts to that best and easiest and most seamlessly will have an advantage of being more comfortable playing baseball. Once the game starts, you're just playing baseball. I think that everybody kind of gets into their comfort zone, at least for the three hours during the game.”

The playing baseball portion has been more difficult than following protocols. The Nationals are a bewildering 4-7 through the jagged first two weeks of the season. They arrive in New York with Max Scherzer ready to return Tuesday. They may also recall a four-game series in Citi Field from last year. When the Nationals walked into the park, they were in a bad place. When they walked out, everything was worse.

They want to worry about the pitching matchups more than hotel entrances and exits. The league has tightened protocols since the Marlins debacle. The Nationals are even working on how to spread out their pregame meetings in conference rooms. And, maybe Martinez was on to something. In a season where cardboard cutouts have been put to use, a life-sized Rizzo with his hands on hips in the hotel lobby may just come in handy.

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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.

RELATED: NATS VS. ORIOLES SUSPENDED DUE TO EXCEPTION IN MLB RULE BOOK

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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