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Indians hitting coach Van Burkleo opts out due to COVID-19

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CHICAGO — Cleveland Indians hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo has opted out of the 2020 season due to concerns about contracting the COVID-19 virus.

Team President Chris Antonetti said Friday that Van Burkelo had been contemplating his departure for some time because of a personal high-risk condition and for his family. The Van Burkleos have a special needs child.

Antonetti said the challenges of traveling and the lack of room in road ballparks may have been the tipping point for the 57-year-old Van Burkleo, who is in his eighth season with the club. He had been under fire for Cleveland’s early offensive struggles.

“We are fully supportive of Ty’s decision,” Antonetti said, adding Van Burkleo remains employed by the team. “He’ll continue to provide support remotely and contribute any way he can from home.”

Antonetti said Alex Eckelman will join the staff to assist Victor Rodriguez and Justin Toole working with the Indians hitters.

Antonetti said the team spoke with all its coaches and staff before the season about working amid the inherent risks from the coronavirus. He said Van Burkleo was committed, but that the wear and tear of the protocols, particularly on the road, may have made it impossible for him to feel safe.

Van Burkleo’s departure further complicates several issues with the Indians’ coaching staff.

Manager Terry Francona will miss his sixth straight game Friday while addressing a gastrointestinal issue he’s combated for months. The 61-year Francona did not make the trip to Chicago and it’s not yet known if he’ll be back next week.

The Indians are off Monday before opening a two-game series at home against the Cubs.

First-base coach Sandy Alomar Jr. has been filling in for Francona. Earlier this week, third-base coach Mike Sarbaugh left his regular spot to help Alomar in the dugout. Cleveland has been without bench coach Brad Mills all season after he decided to spend time with family following the tragic drowning of his grandson this offseason.

Antonetti acknowledged the season has already presented numerous hurdles.

“We’ve had to deal with a lot of things and a lot of adversity over the course of the last few months and that’s been highlighted in the last week or so with some leadership challenges,” he said.

Angels’ Andrelton Simmons opts out of final 5 games

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Shortstop Andrelton Simmons has opted out of the remainder of the Los Angeles Angels’ season.

The Angels announced the four-time Gold Glove-winning shortstop’s decision Tuesday before they faced the San Diego Padres.

Los Angeles (24-31) is still technically in the playoff race with five games left in the regular season, and Simmons clearly caught the Angels by surprise, although the club said it respected his decision.

The 31-year-old Simmons, who can be a free agent this winter, is finishing his fifth year with the Angels. After spraining his ankle in late July and missing 22 games, Simmons is currently batting .297 with 10 RBIs while playing his usual stellar defense, albeit with four errors in 30 games.

“At this time, I feel this is the best decision for me and my family,” Simmons said in a statement. “We don’t know what the future holds, but we would like to sincerely thank the Angels organization and Angels fans for welcoming and making us feel at home.”

Manager Joe Maddon acknowledged he was caught by surprise when general manager Billy Eppler told him about Simmons’ decision Monday night after Simmons went 1 for 4 with an RBI single in the Angels’ home finale. Maddon texted Simmons, but hadn’t heard back by Tuesday afternoon.

“I’ve really enjoyed this guy a lot,” Maddon said. “I’m a big fan. This guy is a good baseball player, and I’ve enjoyed the conversations, too. It’s just unfortunate. He’s really a big part of what we’re doing right now.”

Simmons is a favorite of Angels fans for his defensive wizardry, and owner Arte Moreno has described Simmons as perhaps his favorite player to watch on the roster. Simmons has batted .281 with 36 homers and 281 RBIs during his five seasons with Los Angeles, and he won the Gold Glove in 2017 and 2018.

“He’s a thinking kind of a player, and I’ve enjoyed him a lot,” Maddon said.

Simmons will be a free agent this winter, and the Angels have an obvious replacement for him in David Fletcher, who has a .374 on-base percentage while regularly hitting leadoff for the Angels during his breakout major league season. Fletcher has been playing second base since Simmons’ return from injury.

But the Angels haven’t publicly closed the door on Simmons’ return, and he could be given a qualifying offer. Maddon has repeatedly said he would like Simmons to return in 2021 if possible.

The Angels haven’t had a winning season during Simmons’ five years in Anaheim, although Simmons said last week he wasn’t discouraged by the lack of team success. Simmons played his first four major league seasons in Atlanta, and he hasn’t appeared in the postseason since 2013.

Simmons also said he hadn’t been involved in any recent contract talks with the Angels, but he had enjoyed playing for the club. When asked if he wanted to return to the Halos, Simmons said he would have to “plead the fifth.”