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Washington Nationals and Houston Astros cancel workouts because of COVID-19 testing delays: ‘Without accurate and timely testing it is simply not safe’

WASHINGTON — Baseball’s two World Series teams canceled workouts Monday because of COVID-19 testing delays that one executive worried could endanger the baseball season.

The defending champion Washington Nationals and reigning American League champion Houston Astros each called off training camp practices after not receiving test results from Friday. The cancellations come amid delays around Major League Baseball, with some players opting out, and in the aftermath of Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle criticizing slow test results and a lack of some personal protective equipment.

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“We will not sacrifice the health and safety of our players, staff and their families,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said. “Without accurate and timely testing, it is simply not safe for us to continue with summer camp. Major League Baseball needs to work quickly to resolve issues with their process and their lab. Otherwise, summer camp and the 2020 season are at risk.”

Astros general manager James Click said the delay in testing results and the contagious nature of the coronavirus led to the decision to cancel a full day of workouts.

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“Despite these delays over the holiday weekend, we’re optimistic that the this process will be ironed out and we’ll be back on the field and ready to compete for a championship soon,” Click said.

MLB said in a statement that 95% of its intake testing had been completed and that the Utah laboratory it’s using had reported 98% of results, a majority a day after samples were collected. MLB said it addressed delays caused by the holiday weekend, doesn’t expect them to continue and commended teams for canceling workouts.

But frustration is building around the majors over testing delays.

The Los Angeles Angels were forced to collect their own saliva samples Sunday when testers didn’t show up at their training complexes in Anaheim or Long Beach. They also delayed workouts Monday to accommodate the testers, eventually turning their usual morning drills into an optional afternoon session.

Angels manager Joe Maddon believes “this will be a short-lived situation” and pinned the problem on the holiday weekend.

“I want to believe everything will get straightened out relatively soon,” Maddon said. “I think it’s just one of those moments that was hard to foresee coming into it, but I’ve got a lot of confidence that it’s going to be fixed.”

The Oakland Athletics have yet to have a full-squad workout as they await test results, with manager Bob Melvin optimistic it could be soon. The Arizona Diamondbacks pushed back Monday’s workout a few hours, hoping to get additional results from tests that were taken on Friday.

“I think if we really want this to succeed, we’re going to have to figure that out‚” said Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, who voiced concern that some teammates haven’t been tested in a week. “If you can’t really nail the easy part, which is right now ... we’ve got a big hill to climb.”

Meanwhile, players continue to test positive or opt out of playing.

Texas Rangers All-Star outfielder Joey Gallo was isolating at his Dallas apartment Monday after two positive test results sandwiched around a negative. General manager Jon Daniels said Gallo was asymptomatic.

“You had to have the mindset that there were going to be some kinks to be worked out,” Daniels said. “I think you have to anticipate that there are going to be some issues here as you go along. It’s just not realistic to roll out an operation of this scale on as quick a timeline as we’ve had and not deal with some challenges.”

Atlanta Braves outfielder Nick Markakis on Monday became the latest high-profile player to choose not to play this season. Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher David Price, Colorado Rockies infielder Ian Desmond, Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and Braves pitcher Félix Hernández are among those who have opted out.

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Multiple Blue Jays players didn’t make the trip to Toronto for training camp after one player tested positive for the coronavirus, according to an official familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about it. Players who were in contact with the unnamed player will remain in Florida for further testing and take a charter later in the week if cleared.

Two Nationals players were among the 31 to test positive during intake testing last week. Manager Dave Martinez said Sunday some of the 60 Nationals players tested were still awaiting results.

“Obviously, this is all new for everybody,” Martinez said. “We’ve hit some bumpy roads. But they’re doing the best they can. I know they are. They’re working on cleaning everything up. We’re in a very, very different situation. No one’s ever done this before. So I know they’re working out all the bugs.”

Doolittle, who is still on the fence about playing this season, said he still hadn't gotten his Friday results back before being tested again Sunday.

“That’s one thing that makes me a little nervous,” Doolittle said. “We’re not getting tests back in time. They still haven’t sent us the PPE. We’re supposed to have N-95 masks, stuff like that, gowns, gloves. We’re supposed to have that stuff, we don’t have that stuff. Those are the things it’s going to take for people to stay safe enough for us to continue this season.”

Not every team is dissatisfied with the testing process. Braves manager Brian Snitker said business was as usual at his camp, and Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell said things are going smoothly with his club.

“There’s a lot of hard work that goes into the logistics of setting this up,” Counsell said. “There’s going to be snags in this. I think we all know that. But I’m pleased with how it’s gone so far.”

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly said players and staff were tested again Monday because of testing issues and they would consider canceling workouts if the problem persisted.

The Cleveland Indians have not had any issues related to testing, but All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor said it’s vital that teams get equal practice time before the season starts.

“We’ve got to make sure the testing is 99.9% accurate,” Lindor said. “We have to do a better job as players, the union, drug testing people, everybody. If we’re going to make this work, we have to do a better job. There’s no way you can suspend practices. That’s not a fair advantage for anybody. We all signed up to have a 21-day spring training, that’s how we should do it. Everybody should have the same amount of days.”

AP’s Greg Beacham in Anaheim, Calif.; Janie McCauley in Oakland, Calif.; Andrew Seligman in Chicago; Stephen Hawkins in Arlington, Texas; Steve Megargee in Milwaukee; Rob Gillies in Toronto; Charles Odum in Atlanta; Steven Wine in Miami; and Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed.

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