Former Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez joins the list of major-leaguers opting out of this season due to the coronavirus pandemic, at least temporarily ending the 34-year-old’s bid to revive his career.
The Braves left-hander is the second AL Cy Young winner to opt out in as many days. The Dodgers’ David Price, who won the award with the Rays in 2012, said Saturday that he was bypassing this season “in the best interest of my health and my family’s health.”
Stars Christian Yelich of the Brewers and Jose Altuve of the Astros said Sunday that they plan to play the 60-game season scheduled to start later this month. Reliever Sean Doolittle, who helped the Nationals win the World Series last year, plans to play but says if he feels uncomfortable, he will opt out.
As the season is set to start in less than three weeks while COVID-19 continues to ravage the country, there’s growing unease in clubhouses. Even Mike Trout’s mother weighed in on Twitter, urging Americans to wear masks as the Angels star and three-time AL MVP considers his options.
In Oakland, two projected members of the A’s starting rotation, ace Mike Fiers and Jesus Luzardo, were not on the field for a second straight day of the reboot of spring training because of what manager Bob Melvin called a “pending” issue without elaborating, aside from saying it’s not injury-related.
Fiers was the whistleblower of the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal who pitched his second career no-hitter last season. He and Luzardo were workout partners in Florida during the offseason and quarantine period.
The A’s, who have lost the AL wild-card game the past two seasons, including 2019 to the Rays, are not confirming positive tests. Major-league clubs cannot acknowledge that a player is sidelined due to any COVID-19 issues without the player’s permission due to privacy concerns and HIPAA laws, per union orders.
Braves manager Brian Snitker said Hernandez decided to opt out after he participated in workouts Friday and Saturday at Truist Park. The decision came a day after Snitker announced that four-time All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman, premier reliever Will Smith and two other Atlanta players tested positive.
Snitker said Hernandez might have realized “it is way, way different” now as players must deal with the concerns of trying to start the season during the pandemic.
“Everybody told him it would be, but until you live it I don’t think you know it,” Snitker said. “As tests come in and outbreaks and things like that, I think it’s just human nature to process these things as you have family members involved and children and things like that.
“Things like that aren’t a reality until we get here and live it.”
Hernandez, a six-time All-Star in 15 seasons with Seattle who won the 2010 AL Cy Young Award, needed a fresh start following 2019, his worst season. The right-hander called King Felix posted a 6.40 ERA, was 1-8 in 15 starts and lost his spot in the rotation.
Hernandez signed a one-year minor league deal with the Braves on Jan. 20. The deal included an invitation to big league spring training, and he would have earned $1 million if added to Atlanta’s 40-man roster.
He made a strong early impression in spring training and might have been on track for winning a spot in the rotation before the pandemic delayed the season.
“He did exactly what we asked him to do, which is get guys out,” Snitker said. “He didn’t do anything to not warrant making our club in the spring.”
Snitker said he didn’t know if Hernandez planned to seek a return to the Braves in 2021.
Minutes after Nationals manager Dave Martinez said two players out of 60 tested were positive for the virus, Doolittle lamented not having his test results back from Friday and implored baseball to “clean this up.”
“It’s a little bit disorganized,” he said. “We’re not getting tests back in time. They still haven’t sent us the PPE. We’re supposed to have N95 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 he’s still debating whether to play.
“I’m planning on playing,” he said, “but if at any point I start to feel unsafe, if it starts to take a toll on my mental health … this cloud of uncertainty hanging over everything, then I’ll opt out.”
Yelich, the 2018 NL MVP, said he never thought of opting out but will support any player who does. “For myself, it was an easy call,” he said. “Guys are all in different boats.”
Altuve, the 2017 AL MVP, has two daughters at home, including one who was born this summer.
Although he had concerns about returning to play, he said: “I asked our doctors and almost everybody how high-risk my baby and my wife could be because (the baby) is so young. The answer I got was they don’t qualify for the high-risk percentage of people. So that’s why I decided to join my team.”
Rangers All-Star slugger Joey Gallo and first baseman Ronald Guzman haven’t taken part in the first three days of workouts. General manager Jon Daniels said they are still in the intake-testing process. Reliever Brett Martin tested positive on intake and allowed the Rangers to disclose that on Friday.
Ace Aaron Nola is among the seven Phillies players who haven’t reported; the team is not revealing who is on the COVID-19 list. Seven players have tested positive, including those who forced the shutdown of the team’s spring training complex in Clearwater a few weeks ago.
The White Sox said two players tested positive, are asymptomatic and are isolated in Chicago.
Meanwhile, Trout’s mother, Debbie, tweeted a picture of her son with the caption: “If Mike Trout can wear a mask running the bases, you can wear a mask going out in public,” with the hashtag “WearAMask.”
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