PHOENIX – San Francisco catcher Buster Posey became the latest well-known player to opt out of the abbreviated 2020 season because of concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, joining Dodgers pitcher David Price and Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman on the sidelines.
Later Friday, the Chicago White Sox said prized pitching prospect Michael Kopech wouldn't play this year. No reason was given for his decision.
Others like Texas slugger Joey Gallo and San Diego outfielder Tommy Pham provided good news: They can get back on the field after previously testing positive for the virus.
One week into Major League Baseball's strange summer camp, the constant churn of rosters is one of the few constants.
Posey — a six-time All-Star and 2012 NL MVP — said his family finalized the adoption of identical twin girls this week. The babies were born prematurely and Posey said after consultations with his wife and doctor he decided skipping the season was in his family’s best interest.
“These babies, being as fragile as they are for the next four months minimum, this wasn’t ultimately that difficult a decision for me,” he said.
Arizona manager Torey Lovullo has developed a straightforward strategy to deal with his changing situation in the middle of a stress-filled pandemic. The Diamondbacks have had multiple players test positive for COVID-19, including pitcher Junior Guerra, outfielder Kole Calhoun and young prospect Seth Beer. All three have already been allowed to return.
“I get something at the beginning of the day or at the end of the day that says ‘This is who’s available, and this is who's not available,'” Lovullo said. “So it's kind of a boring answer.”
But trying to keep things simple has been paramount as MLB continues its cautious journey to a 60-game regular season that's scheduled to begin on July 23. The first seven days of camp were anything but dull: Several players across the sport tested positive for COVID-19, results for some tests were delayed and a slow trickle of players have decided to opt out of the season, citing personal, health or family reasons.
While some have opted out of the season, others have carefully weighed the risks and decided to play. Baltimore pitcher Alex Cobb has a young family to care for, including a newborn, so he wasn’t so sure about participating in the delayed season.
But after consulting with his wife, pediatricians and doctors, Cobb joined the rebuilding Orioles.
“There’s just no guarantee that if I opted out and stayed home that we wouldn’t get it,” he said this week, wearing a mask during a Zoom call from Camden Yards. “This is a great opportunity for me personally -- especially since I missed all last year -- to go out and get a season in.”
In the middle of the uncertainty there have occasionally been rays of hope: Gallo returned to camp after missing the first week following a positive COVID-19 test. Padres manager Jayce Tingler said Pham has also been cleared through MLB and was due at Friday's practice. Pham tested positive during intake and was asymptomatic.
The actual baseball part of summer camp has progressed fairly well for many teams. Marlins manager Don Mattingly said three weeks is enough time for players to get ready. Braves manager Brian Snitker agreed that on-the-field concerns had lessened.
“After a week, we’re a little farther along to where I probably thought we would be when we started,” Snitker said Friday.
The Braves endured a jolting start to camp. First baseman and team leader Freddie Freeman, premier reliever Will Smith, right-hander Touki Toussaint and infielder Pete Kozma tested positive for coronavirus. Outfielder Nick Markakis, veteran right-hander Félix Hernández and first base coach Eric Young Sr. opted out.
There is no update as to when Freeman and the other three will rejoin the team.
“I’m still not counting Freddie out,” Snitker said.
KOPECH OPTS OUT, MONCADA ON IL
Kopech has opted not to play this season, and star third baseman Yoán Moncada and pitcher Jose Ruiz were placed on the 10-day injured list because of unspecified ailments, the team announced on Friday.
Kopech and Moncada had been absent since the White Sox resumed workouts last week for the first time since MLB shut down camps in March.
The team had said the 24-year-old Kopech was dealing with a personal issue. He's coming back from Tommy John surgery in September 2018 and hit triple-digits on the radar gun during his first appearance this spring.
Moncada set career highs by hitting .315 with 25 homers and 79 RBIs in a breakthrough season last year.
SOUNDS OF SUMMER, SORT OF
The Red Sox joined the teams test driving prerecorded, piped-in crowd noise tracks during their intrasquad scrimmage at Fenway Park on Friday.
Similar to the sounds being used by leagues in Taiwan and Korea since they returned to play during the pandemic, the tracks included the constant, running chatter of fans talking in the stands that is typically heard during a game -- though at a subdued level. The Rangers are also experimenting with a similar plan.
The sounds also featured fan reactions, such as when Andrew Benintendi sliced a double into right field to lead off the game. There were also applause-backed cheers of fans, like when Martin Pérez walked in a run with the bases loaded.
MEANS GETS NOD
The Orioles announced that left-hander John Means will start for the Orioles in their July 24 opener in Boston. Means went 12-11 with a 3.60 ERA for Baltimore last season, accounting for nearly a quarter of the last place team’s 54 wins. He was the Orioles’ lone representative in the All-Star game and finished second in AL Rookie of the Year balloting.
VLAD JR. ON THE MOVE
The Blue Jays say they're moving young slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. across the diamond from third base to first base.
Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo said Guerrero feels comfortable at first and the team has Travis Shaw ready to play third. The 21-year-old hit .272 with 15 home runs and 69 RBIs as a rookie. He's the son of Hall of Fame outfielder Vladimir Guerrero.
CUBS PUSH BACK PRACTICE, PRAISE TESTING
The Chicago Cubs pushed back some of their schedule on Friday because of delays in getting the results of the tests taken on Tuesday. But president of baseball operations Theo Epstein praised the “big strides” in a program beset by hiccups in the early going.
“Hiccups were to be expected,” he said. “Major League Baseball had not previously tested for viruses like this before. So to go from zero to 17,000 a week, I think it would have been naive to expect there would be no learning curve whatsoever."
Epstein said two coaches tested positive prior to the intake process. A front office member tested positive during the intake.
He added no players have come up positive during the intake or monitoring phase.
AP Sports Writers Charles Odum, Josh Dubow, David Ginsburg, Bernie Wilson, Stephen Hawkins, Steve Wine, Kyle Hightower, Steve Megargee, Rob Gillies and Andrew Seligman contributed to this story.
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