Delays with COVID-19 testing results have added yet another hurdle in Major League Baseball’s attempt to restart the season.
The Washington Nationals and Houston Astros were forced to cancel summer camp practice Monday because of those delays. The Oakland A’s position players were supposed to report to camp Sunday, but they, too, experienced a delay. The A’s tests hadn’t even reached MLB’s laboratory in Salt Lake City by Sunday night.
While the Red Sox haven’t experienced issues to that degree, they haven’t gone unscathed. Pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez’s test is still pending, manager Ron Roenicke said, but he was not more specific. Top prospect Bobby Dalbec hasn’t been at camp for what Roenicke described as “intake issues.”
“We’ve had some that haven’t come in the exact 48 hours,” Roenicke said during a Zoom call on Monday. “We haven’t had any major delays. So far, I think it’s been pretty good. I don’t know how the group in Utah plan for that huge amount of people they got [last] Wednesday when most guys came in to test. So, with our club, they did a good job.”
Prior to the start of camp, Red Sox president Sam Kennedy and chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom explained that upon players’ arrival, they would be tested and undergo a 48-hour isolation period, the time it took to read the results by MLB’s testing lab in Utah. First baseman Mitch Moreland said he was one of the players whose results were delayed, causing him to miss last Friday’s first team practice.
Still, there are less than three weeks until the start of the season. Starters Nate Eovaldi and Martin Perez have both thrown simulated games. Ryan Weber, who’s vying for a starting spot but could be an opener, threw a simulated game Monday. At this juncture, each day Rodriguez misses going forward is significant.
“It’s really hard to say what day he would be here,” said Roenicke, who was asked when Rodriguez would need to be in Boston in order to be ready for the start of the season. “As long as he continues to throw and stay active. We feel like where he was, I know how much he was throwing before he started up, we felt really good about him being ready for the start. Hopefully [when he gets here] that will still be the case.”
MLB issued a statement Monday afternoon, saying that more than “95 percent of the tests under the intake screening period were conducted, analyzed and shared with all 30 clubs.”
MLB said it had a plan in place with special delivery accommodations since it was a holiday weekend, but admitted a few teams still experienced delays.
“There are going to be some hiccups along the way, I think,” Moreland said. “It’s just how we handle it. I don’t think we could get too upset with it. Everybody is trying to do the best they can in this situation. If it becomes a thing where [delays] happen every time, that might be a little more of an issue.”
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo criticized the delay in receiving test results that forced his team to cancel practice.
“We will not sacrifice the health and safety of our players, staff and their families,” Rizzo said. “Without accurate and timely testing, it is simply not safe for us to continue with summer camp. Major League Baseball needs to work quickly to resolve issues with their process and their lab. Otherwise, summer camp and the 2020 season are at risk.”
A delay is one thing. But diligence is another.
Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant told reporters Monday there have been instances where players have gone seven days without being tested. The Players Association and MLB originally agreed to COVID-19 tests every other day. The risk in that not being the case is obvious. Lack of testing on one team could increase the spread of the virus to others once the season begins.
Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle also expressed concerns.
“We’re not getting tests back in time. They still haven’t sent us the PPE. We’re supposed to have N-95 masks, stuff like that, gowns, gloves. We’re supposed to have that stuff, we don’t have that stuff. Those are the things it’s going to take for people to stay safe enough for us to continue this season,” Doolittle said.
High-profile players like the Dodgers’ David Price and the Braves’ Nick Markakis have opted out of playing this season because of health and safety concerns.
Under these circumstances, will it be possible to have a season? It’s still unclear.
“I think right now, from my vantage point, I don’t know,” Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. said. “I’m not going to pretend like I know the answers. It’s definitely something that I feel will get better for everyone. It’s something that, we as players, we think about. Me, personally, I’m not fearful. I think you should have a [sense of] respect that you should be cautious.”
Material from The Associated Press was included in this report.