Covid-positive player sidelines five for Nationals' MLB opener

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Five Washington Nationals players, one who is Covid-19 positive and four close contacts, will miss the team's 2021 Major League Baseball season opener, top executive Mike Rizzo said Wednesday.

Rizzo, the team's president of baseball operations, said the positive result came in a test taken Monday before the team departed Florida spring training to prepare for Thursday's home opener against the New York Mets.

"We are following MLB protocols and CDC protocols and working closely with the league to determine our next steps," Rizzo said. "It will be a lot of balls in the air until then."

Neither the player who tested positive nor those who were close contacts was identified.

Rizzo said that there were five close contacts to the player who tested positive, four players and a staff member. None will be available for the opener. Status after that will be decided by other tests, including those taken Wednesday.

But until then, the Nationals will fill their roster vacancies with players from their alternates lineup, based in nearby Fredericksburg, Virginia.

"We'll certainly have to make some roster moves," Rizzo said. "We will have some roster decisions to make depending on how this all shakes out before opening day."

Rizzo said the only unusual activities on Monday from the rest of spring training, when there were no positives in camp, were travel related, with a bus ride and a plane flight.

"That's the only interaction we had that was different from any spring training day," Rizzo said.

Rizzo played down the significance of the lost players as the team prepared to open its 162-game schedule at home with a limited number of spectators in the stands, raising a 2019 World Series champion banner delayed from last year so some spectators could witness the ceremony.

"We're certainly prepared for it," Rizzo said of the positives. "We're going to field the best team we can to win that game and moving forward.

"All the fail-safes were in place for this type of scenario."

The Nationals went 26-34 in last year's campaign, which was shortened due to Covid-19 issues.

"This is just a small blip on our radar screen. We're going to handle it and take it in stride," Rizzo said.

Rizzo said going through the experience of having players miss games last season and learning the testing protocols makes it easier to take this year.

"Experience is always a good teacher," Rizzo said. "It's not the unknown anymore. We react quickly, swifty and the protocols have shown to be tried and true through last season. We'll adjust depending on what protocol dictates."