After COVID-19 outbreak, Nats wait to hear about facing Braves

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WASHINGTON — The Nationals and Atlanta Braves still were waiting as of Sunday afternoon to find out whether Major League Baseball will allow their upcoming series to proceed as scheduled while Washington deals with a coronavirus outbreak that could prevent 11 players from participating.

Four Nationals players have tested positive for COVID-19 over the past week and are isolating, while a total of another seven are now under quarantine because contact tracing determined they might have been exposed to the illness.

General manager Mike Rizzo said none of those 11 – a majority of whom, although not all, were supposed to be on the opening day roster – would be available if the three-game set with Atlanta begins Monday. Rizzo has not publicly identified any of the players involved or the two staff members who also have been placed under quarantine because of possible exposure.

Washington has yet to play a game this season; its opening three-game series against the New York Mets on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday was postponed.

“Believe me, we’re in constant contact with MLB. As soon as a decision’s made, they’re going to let us know. They’ve been through this before. They know exactly what they have to do and when we when have to do this to prepare for a game on Monday,” Rizzo said in a video call with reporters Sunday.

“We are preparing – and have been preparing – to play Monday,” he said.

Team workouts have not been permitted since the outbreak began, something Rizzo says should happen before Washington faces an opponent, but pitchers were able go to Nationals Park one by one on Saturday and Sunday to throw bullpen sessions.

“Position players haven’t worked out in a week. And pitchers haven’t thrown any competitive pitch in that same period of time. It’s something that we’re taking very seriously here. We’re thinking of creative ways under the protocol and under the guidance to get these guys as ready as possible,” Rizzo said.

“It makes a lot of sense for baseball, player protection-wise, to have these guys go through their paces in a full workout before we take the field,” he added.

The reigning NL East champion Braves are 0-3, coming off a season-opening sweep in which they managed to score a total of three runs at the Philadelphia Phillies.

And while Atlanta didn’t know for certain, as of 24 hours before Monday’s scheduled first pitch in Washington, when its next game would be, Braves catcher Travis d'Arnaud said: “I know we’ve got to be ready to play. It’s better to be ready to play than get surprised.”

Braves manager Brian Snitker said he was going to assume his club would be playing Monday until he hears otherwise.

“This is the COVID era. Everything’s fluid,” Snitker said. “If I get a call tomorrow at 10 o’clock (postponing the game), it’s not going to surprise me. I’m not expecting it, but it could happen.”

Rizzo said that all of his team’s coronavirus testing has continued to come back negative, other than for the four players who are in isolation.

And he said those four are “feeling much, much better,” adding that any symptoms that appeared earlier have subsided.

Now it is up to MLB to figure out when the Nationals can begin their season.

“We want to do everything we can to nip this thing in the bud right here, right now,” Rizzo said. “So I think that’s being taken very much into consideration when we’re talking (about) the next couple of days.”

Swanson, Olson go deep vs Scherzer, Braves take NL East lead

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ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson homered off Max Scherzer, lifting the Atlanta Braves to a crucial 4-2 victory Saturday night over the New York Mets and a one-game lead in the NL East.

The defending World Series champions beat aces Jacob deGrom and Scherzer on consecutive nights to take their biggest lead of the season in the division. New York, which held a 10 1/2-game cushion on June 1, faces its biggest deficit of the year with four games remaining.

Atlanta will try for a three-game sweep Sunday night, with the winner earning the season-series tiebreaker between the teams. Even though both teams are headed to the postseason, that’s important because the NL East champion gets a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Swanson’s 24th homer, a go-ahead, two-run shot in the fifth inning, touched off a frenzy among the sold-out crowd at Truist Park, the ball sailing a few rows up into the seats in left-center to make it 3-2. Olson hit his 32nd homer in the sixth, a solo shot into Chop House seats in right to put Atlanta up 4-2.

Austin Riley led off the fourth with a double and scored on Olson’s single to make it 1-all.

Kyle Wright (21-5) gave up two runs and seven hits with one walk and three strikeouts in five innings as he won his eighth straight decision. The Braves have won 16 of his last 17 starts.

New York went up 2-1 in the fifth when Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil hit consecutive two-out singles.

The Mets led 1-0 in the first when Brandon Nimmo singled, advanced on a walk and a single and scored on Eduardo Escobar‘s groundout. Wright, who threw 30 pitches in the first, stranded two runners in scoring position to prevent further damage.

Scherzer (11-5) allowed a first-inning single to Riley and a third-inning infield single to Ronald Acuna Jr., who advanced to third on a fielding error by Lindor at shortstop but was stranded when Michael Harris II lined out to center. Scherzer patted his glove and pumped his fist as he walked off the mound.

Scherzer was charged with nine hits and four runs with no walks and four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings as the Mets were knocked out of first place for only the third day all season.

The Braves have won five of the last six against New York to tie the season series 9-all, outscoring the Mets 37-16 over that stretch.

Atlanta’s bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA in September, got a perfect inning from Dylan Lee in the sixth. Jesse Chavez faced four batters in the seventh, Raisel Iglesias faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his NL-leading 39th save in 46 chances.

Since the Braves were a season low-tying four games under .500 at 23-27 after play on May 31, they have gone 76-32, tying the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in the majors over that span. They were a season-worst 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets on June 1.

Wright, the only 20-game winner in baseball this season, hasn’t officially become the first Braves pitcher to lead the league in wins outright since Russ Ortiz had 21 in 2003, but the Dodgers’ Julio Urias has 17 and can’t reach 20 before the regular season ends.

Wright will become the first Braves pitcher since Hall of Famer Tom Glavine in 2000 to lead the majors in wins. Houston ace Justin Verlander also has 17.

Wright began the game 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA in six career starts and one relief appearance against the Mets.

The Braves, who got homers from Riley, Olson and Swanson off deGrom on Friday, lead the NL with 240 homers.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets: All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. Manager Buck Showalter said Marte is experiencing less pain but not enough to take the next step in his recovery. Marte has been sidelined since Sept. 7.

Braves: RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique. Manager Brian Snitker said there is no timetable for the rookie’s return. Strider has been sidelined since Sept. 21.

NICE GLOVE

Harris ran back and jumped to catch Nimmo’s fly against the wall in center field for the first out of the third.

UP NEXT

Mets RHP Chris Bassitt (15-8, 3.27 ERA) will face RHP Charlie Morton (9-6, 4.29) as the teams conclude a three-game series.