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Rob Manfred informs union MLB could shut down if COVID-19 isn’t better controlled

The Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks hold a moment of silence to honor those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic before Thursday's game in Phoenix, Ariz.
The Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks hold a moment of silence to honor those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic before Thursday's game in Phoenix, Ariz.Christian Petersen/Getty

Major League Baseball could shut down for the season, commissioner Rob Manfred told MLB Players Association boss Tony Clark on Friday, if its players and teams don’t do a better job managing the coronavirus pandemic.

Friday morning’s news was that two members of the St. Louis Cardinals tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the cancellation of Milwaukee’s home opener against St. Louis. The teams still hoped to play Saturday night, and to make up Friday’s game with a pair of seven-inning games in a Sunday doubleheader — the league and union announced an agreement to stage such twinbills earlier in the day.

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Manfred’s conversation with the MLBPA comes after multiple reports that an internal investigation by the league found the COVID-19 outbreak within the Miami Marlins — at 18 players and two coaches and which has kept them off the field since Sunday in Philadelphia — was potentially caused by the team being “very lapse” in its adherence to the 113-page operations manual that sets forth the league’s coronavirus protocols. Reports suggest players went out and were in the hotel bar during their preseason trip to Atlanta for exhibition games, and that many around the league are angry with the organization for putting other teams, and the whole season, in danger.

Manfred has the power to shut down the league, and there is a belief he may do so as soon as Monday should there be another spike in positive tests. Games in the season’s first week have regularly featured players high-fiving, spitting, failing to social distance in dugouts, and not wearing masks — all forbidden under the agreement on safety.

“There are some bad decisions being made,” one high-ranking official told ESPN.

In the latest joint announcement of testing results Friday, there were 29 positive COVID-19 tests from 11,895 samples taken over the past week, with 21 of the positives from the Marlins. None of the Marlins have shown serious symptoms, according to an Associated Press source. Those infected, who’ve remained in Philadelphia since Monday’s revelations of the outbreak, left in sleeper buses Friday for an 18-hour trip to Miami, the source said. They will remain together in quarantine.

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The Cardinals said in a statement they learned Thursday night about positive tests from samples collected Wednesday. Players and staff were instructed to isolate in their hotel rooms. Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio shrugged off the setbacks and said baseball is braced for curveballs, especially this year.

“We’re all committed, I believe — and I’ve talked to a number of players today — to finishing the season,” Attanasio said. “Insofar as we can continue to provide some enjoyment for our fans, I think that’s something we’re all committed to doing. . . . If we’re not smart and safe, then we’ll fail. But we’re doing everything we can not to fail.”

With Miami’s weekend series against Washington and Toronto’s at Philadelphia already postponed, six of the league’s 30 teams were idle Friday.

Astros owner Crane: ‘I don’t know what else they want us to do.'

Houston Astros owner Jim Crane, whose team remains under attack from fans and opponents alike for its widespread sign-stealing during its championship 2017 season, is not seeking sympathy, but feels his organization is being unfairly targeted over a widespread problem.

“I think [MLB] had a bigger problem than everybody realized,” Crane told USA Today. “Two other teams [the Yankees and Red Sox] were doing things and got caught, but we’re the ones who took the bullet. That’s the way it works. I’m not trying to blame anyone else. It was our problem. We dealt with it. . . . I don’t know if this whole thing is over. I think after this year it will calm down. But it will always be out there.”

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Speaking expansively on the topic for the first time since a pilloried February press conference where he said Houston’s system of cameras, monitors, and trash-can signaling “didn’t alter the game,” Crane said nothing the Astros could’ve done would’ve calmed the mob.

“People are aggravated the players didn’t get suspended,” said Crane, “but I didn’t have anything to do with that. That was Rob [Manfred]’s call. Listen, it’s always going to be whatever you want to call it. A black mark. An asterisk. It happened. It’s not good for anybody. It’s not good for the game.

“We broke the rules. We got penalized. We were punished. There’s no doubt it weighs on all of us every single day. But I don’t know what else they want us to do. I mean, you couldn’t do a lot more. We took a big penalty.”

Houston was fined $5 million, the maximum allowed under league bylaws, and forfeited draft picks in 2020 and 2021. Both general manager Jeff Luhnow and field manager AJ Hinch were also suspended for the 2020 season — Crane subsequently fired both, reaching a buyout agreement with Hinch. Alex Cora, Houston’s bench coach in 2017 before departing to manage the Red Sox, was given a one-year suspension following the conclusion of MLB’s investigation into the 2018 Red Sox.

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Crane also defended Brandon Taubman, the former assistant GM fired after an outburst at a group of female reporters regarding pitcher Roberto Osuna, who was charged with and suspended for domestic assault in 2018.

“He just made a comment. It’s nothing you can defend,” Crane said of the 35-year-old Taubman, in part. “He had a few cocktails. He was happy. . . . Everybody makes mistakes.”

Nationals shelve Harris with groin issue

New Nationals reliever Will Harris was put on the 10-day injured list with a strained right groin. He last pitched Tuesday, giving up two unearned runs in the eighth inning of a loss to the Blue Jays. The 35-year-old righthander signed a $24 million, three-year contract after losing the World Series to the Nationals while with his previous team, the Astros . . . The White Sox promoted Nick Madrigal and batted him ninth in his major-league debut at Kansas City. The 23-year-old second baseman was the fourth overall pick in the 2018 draft, and hit .311 with four homers and 55 RBIs in 120 games over three minor league stops last season . . . The Cubs signed former Indians closer Cody Allen to a minor league deal and assigned him to the team’s training site in South Bend, Ind. Closer Craig Kimbrel walked four batters and allowed two runs in his season debut Monday night. Allen, released by the Rangers last week, went 0-2 with a 6.26 ERA and four saves with the Angels last season. He had 32 saves for the 2016 Indians team that lost to the Cubs in the World Series . . . Spencer Turnbull and the Detroit bullpen combined on a three-hitter Friday in a 7-2 win over the visiting Reds. Turnbull led the majors in losses last season as a rookie, going 3-17 and dropping his last 13 decisions. The 27-year-old righty didn’t allow a hit until former Tigers teammate Nick Castellanos doubled leading off the fifth . . . Trevor Rosenthal pitched a scoreless ninth inning Thursday night in Kansas City’s 5-3 victory over the Detroit Tigers, his first save since Aug. 12, 2017, when he was with St. Louis. The Royals won on the road despite Miguel Cabrera solo homers in the first and eighth, his first multihomer game since Sept. 30, 2016. He now has 480 for his career . . . Texas Rangers radio broadcaster Matt Hicks is among three people who have recently worked in the home radio booth at the new Globe Life Field who have tested positive for COVID-19. His partner Eric Nadel, who has gotten a negative test result, has opted out of working this weekend’s road games against San Francisco . . . Washington minor leaguer Tres Barrera has sued MLB, the commissioner’s office, the director of an anti-doping lab, and two league-contracted labs in Utah and Montreal over a Feb. 11 positive test for DHCMT, a banned steroid, that netted him an 80-game suspension. Barrera, a 25-year-old catcher, was part of Washington’s 60-player pool before the suspension was finalized.

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