Dodger Stadium was supposed to host Major League Baseball’s All-Star game for the first time in 40 years Tuesday. The American sports world’s attention would have shifted to Los Angeles. It would have been a celebration.
Instead, the only game in town was a scrimmage inside a vacant, silent ballpark as the Dodgers continued their training camp in preparation for their 60-game season amid a pandemic. Successfully staging the season remains an uncertainty with COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rising in states across the country. Obstacles will arise at every turn for every team.
For the Dodgers, an additional hurdle is complicating matters.
Los Angeles County law stipulates that people who come into close contact with someone with COVID-19 must quarantine for 14 days even if they don’t test positive or exhibit symptoms.
MLB and the Dodgers have engaged in discussions with the L.A. County Department of Public Health about the team receiving an exemption, but the team hasn’t received one, according to people with knowledge of the situation.
Spokesmen for MLB and the L.A. County Department of Public Health declined to comment.
The Washington Nationals, who are holding training camp at Nationals Park in the District of Columbia, are the only one of the other 29 clubs dealing with a similar rule enforced by a local government entity.
MLB’s operations manual for the season establishes decisions made by government bodies will take precedence when regulating individuals after they come into close contact with people who test positive for the coronavirus. Different locales have different rules, potentially creating differences in personnel availability depending on where teams play.
The Dodgers wouldn’t disclose details, but the team has had players miss time from training camp because of the county’s mandate. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts acknowledged he is concerned that the rule could also leave the Dodgers at a disadvantage during the regular season.
“A little bit,” Roberts said in a videoconference call with reporters Tuesday. “We’re trying not to make too big of a deal of it but it’s county to county, state to state as far as what the expectations are with the contact tracing and what you need to do to protect the person you’re in contact with and others around.
“But I think that for the county of Los Angeles, I think we are more on the conservative side, which I think is a good thing. But, obviously, we talk about competitive advantage when our guys might be out a little bit longer than another team’s players, certainly. But I think the most important thing is the health of the players and we’ll make do regardless of what we’re up against.”
On Monday, 10 days before the Dodgers are scheduled to open the season against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium, Gov. Gavin Newsom rolled back California’s reopening plan, ordering the closing of various businesses across the state.
Roberts said the restrictions have not affected the Dodgers and the organization has not contemplated implementing contingency plans.
“Our thought is to just continue business as usual,” Roberts said, “take the necessary precautions.”
Those precautions left the Dodgers without 10 players at one point during training camp. The number has dwindled to four over the last week. On Monday, relievers Pedro Báez and Scott Alexander reported to camp. Outfielder A.J. Pollock reported Tuesday. Keibert Ruiz is the only Dodger on the 40-man roster not in camp.
Roberts said Báez threw off flat ground while Alexander threw a bullpen session Monday. Pollock took batting practice before Tuesday’s scrimmage. Roberts said he expects Pollock will face live pitching in the next few days.
Time is running out. Opening day is around the corner and questions linger.
Buehler ‘a little bit behind’
Walker Buehler, the only projected starting pitcher yet to appear in a scrimmage, threw one inning in a live batting practice session Sunday. He is scheduled to throw a two-inning session again before appearing in a scrimmage or exhibition game.
Roberts said Buehler is “a little bit behind” the other starters after he “took some time off” during the league’s shutdown. Roberts insisted Buehler didn’t suffer an injury. The manager added he anticipates Buehler logging three or four innings in his first start of the season.
Max Muncy went two for three with a double in Tuesday’s scrimmage but didn’t play the field and hasn’t taken ground balls since hurting his left ring finger July 5. Roberts reiterated Muncy will be ready to start at first base opening day. … Kenley Jansen made his first scrimmage appearance of training camp Tuesday. The closer needed eight pitches to secure four outs, including a strikeout of Corey Seager. Jansen reported to camp Sunday after testing positive for the coronavirus. … Bench coach Bob Geren’s days as a home plate umpire appear to be over. The Dodgers had two major league umpires work Tuesday’s scrimmage for the first time since they started holding intrasquad games. Roberts said the two-man crew will also work the Dodgers’ final three scrimmages. …Roberts said the club will begin playing scrimmages with artificial noise later this week. It will be the same noise the organization will use for regular-season games at Dodger Stadium.