The latest potential snag in Major League Baseball’s quest to stage a season amid a pandemic is occurring in Washington, where the Nationals are concerned about the feasibility of playing in their home ballpark because of the city’s coronavirus protocols.
But that's unlikely to prevent the Phillies from playing an exhibition there this weekend.
The Phillies expect the game against the defending World Series champions to go off as scheduled at 6:05 p.m. Saturday. Aaron Nola is slated to pitch in his final tune-up before a probable opening-night start against the Miami Marlins on July 24 at Citizens Bank Park.
It’s possible, though, that the Nationals will have to relocate for the regular season.
Players, coaches, and staff aren’t currently exempt from the city’s health protocols, which include 14-day quarantines for anyone who is exposed to COVID-19. Because of that guideline, star outfielder Juan Soto and eight other Nationals players haven’t been able to participate in training camp because they either contracted the coronavirus or were potentially exposed.
According to the Washington Post, the Nationals are exploring two alternative home venues: their single-A stadium in Fredericksburg, Va., and their spring-training facility in West Palm Beach, Fla.
The Phillies are scheduled to play in Washington on Aug. 25-27 and Sept. 21-23. Manager Joe Girardi said the Phillies would be flexible in dealing with any schedule changes that come up as a result of issues in Washington.
“As of right now, we’re assuming we’re going Saturday to play in Washington. We’re assuming we’ll play [during] the season in Washington,” Girardi said. “But it could change and we’ll have to be flexible.”
Also, the Toronto Blue Jays have received clearance by provincial and city authorities -- but are awaiting federal approval -- to play regular-season games at Rogers Centre. The U.S.-Canada border remains closed to nonessential travel until at least Aug. 21, and MLB needed an exemption for a 14-day quarantine requirement for people who travel into Canada.
The Phillies are scheduled to play in Toronto on July 31 and Aug. 1-2.
After back-to-back strong starts by Vince Velasquez in the fight for the No. 5 starter job, Nick Pivetta answered with four scoreless innings in Thursday night’s intrasquad scrimmage.
“I thought Nick was really good,” Girardi said. “I thought Nick used his offspeed really well. I thought he mixed his pitches really well, and that’s what he’s capable of doing.”
Girardi said he would like to have the No. 5 starter competition settled by early next week, although Zach Eflin’s status could be a factor, too. If Eflin, who was slowed in camp by back spasms, isn’t ready to make his first start, Velasquez and Pivetta could both begin the season in the rotation.
The Phillies pumped up the volume and adjusted the variance of the artificial crowd noise during the intrasquad game.
Rather than the constant murmuring that sounded like a white-noise machine during the previous two nights' scrimmages, the faux crowd "cheered" at appropriate times, such as when Bryce Harper doubled to right field in the first inning.
“It’s weird, man,” outfielder Roman Quinn said with a laugh. “One thing it does do, it does block out the noise that’s going on, like hearing players talk and maybe hearing the other team talk as well. It does kind of put you in the mind frame like you are in the actual game with fans there.”