Pandemic MLB exhibition games have make-it-up-as-you-go feel
BY JOSH DUBOW
AP SPORTS WRITER
A seventh-inning stretch without fans at Yankee Stadium was far from the oddest happening on the second day of summer exhibitions in the majors.
The first inning ended at Dodger Stadium without Los Angeles making a single out Sunday night, a game went to the 10th inning in Philadelphia even with the Orioles leading the Phillies 4-1, and the Yankees hit in the bottom of the ninth with a 6-0 lead over the Mets.
It’s not quite baseball like you’re used to seeing. Then again, we’d never seen baseball amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The most peculiar situation occurred during the first exhibition between Arizona and the Dodgers, with the game having an intrasquad feel.
Diamondbacks starter Taylor Widener got off to rough opening when he walked the first two batters and then gave up a single to Justin Turner that loaded the bases. Cody Bellinger followed with a grand slam to make it 4-0.
Corey Seager then walked and was heading to first base when he learned the inning was over. Widener had thrown 25 pitches in the first, but he stayed in the game and allowed six runs in four innings overall.
“Basically, we just came to an agreement between teams that if a pitcher gets past a 25-pitch threshold In an inning we can choose to roll it over so we can build that pitcher up and not put him in harm’s way,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
The Dodgers won the game 9-2.
That wasn’t the only oddity among the four exhibitions played during the day.
In Philadelphia, the Orioles appeared to have wrapped up a victory over the Phillies when the teams headed out for the 10th to give Trevor Kelley a chance to throw an inning as he tunes up for the regular season.
Kelley ended up giving up a homer to Ryan Mountcastle before the game ended after 9 1/2 innings.
In New York, the Yankees had put together a win over the Mets behind two homers from Aaron Judge, and one each from Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez, and Luke Voit.
But the Mets still went out to the field for the meaningless bottom of the ninth inning. Seth Lugo pitched a second inning and retired the Yankees in order.
Earlier in the game, the teams took the traditional break in the seventh inning for fans to stretch to “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” even though none were there. They also played “God Bless America” over the loudspeaker.
The Mets took three buses for the short ride from Queens in order to socially distance.
Things were mostly normal in Chicago, where the White Sox beat the Cubs 7-3 at Wrigley Field.
BACK IN CENTER
The defending World Series champion Washington Nationals were happy to have starting center Victor Robles back in camp.
Robles had his first official workout with the team on Sunday after being quarantined for two weeks because he came into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
“It was definitely very difficult, the fact that I really wasn’t able to work much on my swing,” Robles said through an interpreter. “But I appreciate that the team did a good job of taking me a lot of things that I could use within the apartment, even baseballs, and whatnot, to try to stay as ready as I could physically.”
Robles spent much of his time in quarantine in his hotel room watching Netflix and listening to music. But he was also able to work with some weights the team gave him and do some running in the parking lot to stay in shape.
He was pleased with his at-bats on Sunday, was able to run the bases and feels it’s realistic he’ll be ready to play Thursday.
“I think I have the ability and the youth that helps me get ready quickly,” he said. “I think the team brought enough things for me to work on to where I feel like I’m definitely going to be able to be ready for opening day, if possible.”
All-Star second baseman DJ LeMahieu was in the Yankees’ lineup for the first time since recovering from COVID-19. LeMahieu hit leadoff, going 0 for 2 and playing three innings in the field.
“I thought he looked good,” manager Aaron Boone said. “Smoked the ball his first time. Kind of typical DJ.”
Judge made his summer exhibition debut and homered on an 0-2 fastball from Corey Oswalt in the first inning and in the sixth off Drew Smith.
That backed five dominant and efficient innings by Jordan Montgomery, who cemented his rotation spot.
“It finally felt like a real game,” said Montgomery, who made two appearances last September after returning from Tommy John surgery. “I was excited to get out there with our guys behind me.”
Masahiro Tanaka threw his second bullpen since getting hit in the head by Stanton’s line drive in a simulated game early this month. The session went well and Tanaka will probably face hitters Tuesday, Boone said, but it’s unclear when the right-hander might be ready for his first regular-season start.
Right-hander Luis Cessa returned to the Yankees after testing positive for the coronavirus.
Mets catcher Wilson Ramos is away from the team to deal with a personal matter — the club is not explaining any absences in detail. In a related move, New York added veteran backstop, René Rivera, to the 40-man roster. Reserve first baseman Matt Adams was released.
Jacob deGrom threw a simulated game back at Citi Field. His fastball registered 98-100 mph and he struck out nine of 14 hitters who took an at-bat, according to manager Luis Rojas.
“We got some good reports,” Rojas said. “Jake was Jake.”
The two-time Cy Young Award winner is on track to start the season opener Friday at home against Atlanta. He left an intrasquad game after one inning last week because of back stiffness, but an MRI came back clean.
Yoenis Céspedes started in left field for the first time and played three uneventful innings on defense, but right-handed reliever Robert Gsellman is slowed by triceps tightness.
Pirates third base prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes is out indefinitely while dealing with the novel coronavirus.
Manager Derek Shelton announced Hayes’ illness on Sunday after the 23-year-old Hayes — the son of former longtime MLB third baseman Charlie Hayes — gave the team clearance to do so.
The diagnosis blunts the momentum that Hayes, considered the top infield prospect within the organization, built during spring training. The Pirates expected Hayes, a three-time Gold Glove winner while in the minors, to make his MLB debut this season while splitting time with Colin Moran. But now he must wait in isolation waiting for his clearance to return to the team.
“Any time we lose development time, it’s challenging for us,” Shelton said. “As we’ve talked about numerous times, not just for (Hayes) but for all of our prospects, this is a big year for us. We have to be very thoughtful of how much work we get them and try to get them as much work as possible. Any time we lose prospect time, it’s challenging.”
Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire confirmed that Matthew Boyd will start Detroit’s opener in Cincinnati on Friday night.
Boyd was set to pitch the season opener in March and his family members booked flights to Cleveland for the occasion. He knows this version won’t have quite the fanfare but still views it as an honor.
“I know it’s going to look different this year, without getting to share it with the fans in person, but I’m sure it’ll be pretty special on TV with everything that they’ll do,” he said.
The Blue Jays are still searching for a home stadium this season after Canada’s government barred Toronto from playing in its home stadium amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Pitcher Anthony Bass said Sunday the players have told general manager, Ross Atkins, they’d prefer to play in a big-league stadium if possible.
“I just said, ‘Look, we want to play in a major league ballpark. We feel that’s the best opportunity for us,’ and he agreed and said, ‘I listened to you guys loud and clear and that’s what we’re going to do for you because that’s what the team wants,’” Bass said.
The team has considered playing home games at its training facility in Dunedin, Florida, which is among the states that are virus hotspots, or Sahlen Field in Buffalo, New York, which is home to Toronto’s Triple-A affiliate and just across the Niagara River from Canada.
Brewers outfielder/first baseman Ryan Braun hasn’t played in any of the team’s five intrasquad games, raising at least some concern about his availability for Friday’s season opener with the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.
“I’m still confident he’s going to be fine,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “But it’s Sunday. We’ve got three days of games left after today. He’s got to get on the field soon, yes.”
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