The Nationals have assigned right-handed reliever Justin Miller to the 10-day injured list, the team announced Saturday. Miller was diagnosed with a lower back strain after laboring through an unsuccessful outing on Friday night. He was replaced on the 25-man roster by rookie right-hander Austen Williams, who was brought in from Triple-A Fresno and figures to be available for the remainder of the weekend series.
Miller, 31, struggled during the Nationals’ 6-3 loss to the Pirates last night. He stepped in for Matt Grace in the top of the 10th inning and induced a groundout from Starling Marte, then gave up the game-winning three-run homer to Colin Moran in the next at-bat. While he didn’t appear to be in obvious pain during the game, team doctors later determined that he had aggravated the back issues he developed during last weekend’s series against the Mets. “It just feels like somebody’s punching me in the kidney every single time I try and throw a ball,” Miller told reporters.
Prior to the diagnosis, Miller had allowed four runs, two walks, and six strikeouts over his first 6 1/3 innings of the 2019 season. (That hasn’t done much to alleviate the issues facing the Nationals’ bullpen, which currently ranks eighth-worst in the NL with a cumulative 8.12 ERA and 0.0 fWAR, per FanGraphs.) It’s still unclear whether he’ll be able to make a full comeback within such a short window, however, or whether the club will start to look at external options if Williams needs more time to get the hang of things at the major-league level.
The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Zach Buchanan report that the Diamondbacks are one of several teams that have used labs other than the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory in Utah to process COVID-19 testing. MLB has encountered delays with its testing, despite promising 24-hour turnaround time, so teams have tried other avenues — with the league’s endorsement — in order to get faster results.
The SMRTL had processed performance-enhancing drug screenings for MLB. The league converted it to process COVID-19 tests amid concerns that having a season and all of the testing that would be required throughout would take away testing resources from the general public. That some teams are utilizing labs other than the SMRTL suggests the league, indeed, is usurping those resources.
In prospect Seth Beer’s case, he tested positive for COVID-19. He needed to test negative twice consecutively to be cleared to return to play. Beer went to a third-party site in the Phoenix area. He received his second negative test and was cleared to return on July 9.
The Diamondbacks said that the labs they have used have assured them that they are not taking away tests from the public. That seems like a claim MLB and the D-Backs should demonstrably prove. Per Rosenthal and Buchahan, the D-Backs have gone to an outside lab about 20 times, which accounts for less than one percent of COVID-19 tests taken by players and staff. Still, those are 20 tests that could have been used by the general public. And if the D-Backs and a handful of other teams already are using outside labs, then the rest of the league likely already is or soon will be doing the same. In the end, there will be a lot more than 20 tests taken at outside labs by MLB players and staff. Considering that “Tier 1” players will be tested every other day throughout the season, the total of third-party tests taken — if things continue the way they are now — could easily reach into the thousands by the end of October.
We all want baseball back, but the players, coaches, and all other staff are no more important than cashiers, teachers, and delivery drivers, so they shouldn’t have more access to COVID-19 testing simply by virtue of being associated with Major League Baseball and all of its influence and financial muscle. It would be unethical for MLB to be cutting in line ahead of other people who need testing just as much as if not more than the players.