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Brian Cashman supports Yankees players, staff kneeling during anthem

8:22 PM ET

Marly RiveraESPN Writer

CloseMarly Rivera is a writer for ESPNdeportes.com and ESPN.com.

WASHINGTON — New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Wednesday he supports the right of players to express themselves in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Addressing the widespread Black Lives Matter protests on the eve of Opening Day, Cashman said on a video conference, “That’s a manifestation of where our country currently is. Our country is, in many ways, the greatest country in the world, and in some ways it’s broken. We are not all together and not all as one as we should be. And because of that, you’re seeing demonstrations like kneeling at the anthem. Part of our community is hurting when it shouldn’t be. And it’s been ignored for a long period of time.”

On Monday, San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler became the first coach in the majors to take a knee during the anthem, doing so alongside several of his players before an exhibition game against the Athletics in Oakland as a means to speak out against racial injustice. In 2017, former A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first major league player to take a knee.

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Cashman said he would support any Yankee who decided to kneel.

“The great part of America is there’s different ways to express yourself, and different platforms to utilize how you express yourself and in some cases that happens to be kneeling during the anthem,” he said. “I support the expression of the ability for somebody to protest in the way they see fit.”

Cashman, GM of the Yankees since 1998, added that the team has been having “difficult” internal discussions about how to promote change. According to a Yankees employee, other than guest instructors, the organization has only two Black coaches: bullpen coach Mike Harkey and hitting coach Marcus Thames, both of whom are at the major league level.

“I engaged a number of our Black employees, whether it was on our major league coaching staff, whether it was people within our front-office ranks. We met with a number of our minor league Black players and we actually started the conversations to get a sense of how are they doing, what can be done better, and how can we be a part of more positive change,” Cashman said. “There were very difficult conversations, real personal stories that were shared. During conversations with our players in the minor leagues, because there is systemic racism, you can misinterpret if you’re split up in the batting groups for instance, maybe our Black players thought it was because they’re being separated because they’re Black, when it wasn’t the case. So it was a really healthy dialogue.

“But some of the more personal conversations, like, I have a daughter, Grace. When I was teaching her how to drive, I don’t have that extra conversation. I don’t have to teach her about what to do when you’re pulled over, or how to act a certain way, but other people that I am working alongside with who are Black they have to have a different conversation. And listening that there is that extra step that someone that I care a great deal for has to do from their side as a parent, it’s very difficult to hear. I always try to preach and create the culture of if you have a suggestion or if there is something that we can do better, this is a safe environment that you can feel free to share, to confront, to discuss, so we can find higher ground.”

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Giants manager Gabe Kapler, players kneel during anthem

OAKLAND, Calif. — San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler plans to use his position to speak out against racial injustice and provide a voice for those who aren’t heard.

Kapler and several of his players knelt during the national anthem before the Giants’ 6-2 exhibition victory at the Oakland Athletics. Kapler shared his plans when he addressed the team earlier Monday, and he said all players would be supported by the Giants, no matter what they decided to do.

“I wanted them to know that I wasn’t pleased with the way our country has handled police brutality, and I told them I wanted to amplify their voices and I wanted to amplify the voice of the Black community and marginalized communities as well,” Kapler said. “So I told them that I wanted to use my platform to demonstrate my dissatisfaction with the way we’ve handled racism in our country. I wanted to demonstrate my dissatisfaction with our clear systemic racism in our country, and I wanted them to know that they got to make their own decisions, and we would respect and support those decisions. I wanted them to feel safe in speaking up.”

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Giants right fielder Jaylin Davis and first-base coach Antoan Richardson, both of whom are Black, also took a knee. Shortstop Brandon Crawford stood between them with a hand on each of their shoulders. Davis held his right hand over his heart, and Richardson, who is from the Bahamas, clasped his hands in front of him.

Much discussion went into each person’s choice, and Kapler said some of the Giants reached out to other organizations. Kapler said the Giants will continue to have such important discussions together as a team and “make them a part of the fabric of our clubhouse.”

“We’ve had a lot of conversations about the anthem over the course of the last 72 hours, and when I say we, I mean our coaching staff and our players,” Kapler said. “We connected with small groups of players. We connected with players individually and had meaningful conversations about this topic.”

It was on the same field that former A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell in 2017 became the first major leaguer to kneel for the anthem.

Players, managers and the one major leaguer who took a knee share their experiences of race issues inside the game and out. Story »
Bryant: The exile of Bruce Maxwell »

Giants president Farhan Zaidi said in a statement after the game that the entire organization is “proud of our players and staff for continuing to participate in the national conversation about racial injustice.”

“We support those who knelt to peacefully protest racial injustice and those who stood to express love of country,” the statement continued. “We do not see these as mutually exclusive sentiments and believe the freedom to express both is what our country is about.”

As he has in the past, President Donald Trump on Tuesday tweeted his thoughts on kneeling during the national anthem.

Looking forward to live sports, but any time I witness a player kneeling during the National Anthem, a sign of great disrespect for our Country and our Flag, the game is over for me!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 21, 2020

“Looking forward to live sports, but any time I witness a player kneeling during the National Anthem, a sign of great disrespect for our Country and our Flag, the game is over for me!”

Kapler, who is beginning his first season managing the Giants after two disappointing years guiding the Philadelphia Phillies, didn’t say how often he would kneel but noted, “We’re going to have 60 chances in the regular season to make the same decision that we made today, to either stand or kneel or do something different. Right now, it’s another opportunity tomorrow night.”

Kapler has been outspoken about social injustice and racial issues and athletes’ roles in helping spur positive change.

“They felt strong about the issue, so they knelt,” A’s pitcher Mike Fiers said.

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started taking a knee during the national anthem in 2016 to protest racial inequality and police mistreatment of minorities. He was roundly criticized for years, but public sentiment has changed since George Floyd’s death in May. Floyd, a Black man, died after a white Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for more than seven minutes while Floyd was handcuffed and saying that he couldn’t breathe.

On Monday in San Diego, Los Angeles Angels reliever Keynan Middleton, who is Black, kneeled and raised his right fist during the national anthem before the Angels’ 1-0 victory over the Padres.

On Tuesday, he posted on Twitter, “Until things start to change in this country and my brothers and sisters don’t have to live in fear, I will be using my platform to implement change.”

✊🏽❤️✊🏽 pic.twitter.com/JlSDhd9XGV

— La llave🗝 (@since93key) July 21, 2020

Angels manager Joe Maddon said Middleton told him in advance that he wanted to kneel, and the team was “totally supportive” of the decision.

“I’m very proud that he stood up for his beliefs tonight. I really am,” Maddon said. “It’s not easy to do that, a young man like himself, being the only one out here doing that.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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The most exciting themes, teams and players for MLB’s 60-game season

There is baseball in just over four days. Real, live major league baseball, with standings and statistics and strikeouts. Max Scherzer will throw the first pitch of the abbreviated 2020 season when the Washington Nationals host the New York Yankees on Thursday night on ESPN. It’s going to look weird, with no fans in the stands, although it might sound relatively normal, as stadium engineers will pump in about 75 different crowd reactions from noise compiled over several seasons and used in the MLB The Show video game.

Of course, there will be nothing normal about the season, with the COVID-19 pandemic still hanging over everything and a few players opting out of playing and others who will miss the start of action after testing positive — with more positive test results surely to come throughout the season.

If there’s a slogan MLB should adopt for 2020, I would suggest “Embrace the sprint.” Imagine if we woke up on July 23 of a typical season with every team tied for first place. We would view it as a chaotic ride to the finish line in which every game matters. That’s where we will be when Scherzer takes the mound to face Gerrit Cole with the fake crowd noises, no sunflower seeds and no smells of hot dogs and summer sweat.

It’s still baseball, however, and here are some of the themes, teams and players to watch in the first 60-game season since the Boston Red Stockings won the National League in 1878 with a 41-19 record.

Exciting young players

On ESPN and the ESPN App; all times Eastern.

Thursday, July 23
• Yankees at Nationals, 7 p.m.
• Giants at Dodgers, 10 p.m.

Friday, July 24
• Braves at Mets, 4 p.m.
• Brewers at Cubs, 7 p.m.
• Angels at Athletics, 10 p.m.

Sunday, July 26
• Braves at Mets, 7 p.m.

We’re in a golden age of young talent, and while a 60-game schedule isn’t what we desire, it works for college baseball and it’s a lot better than seeing players miss an entire season in their primes. Here is one way to look at the young talent in the game today: In 2019, there were 29 position players age 25 or younger who had at least 3.0 WAR — the most ever in one season (27 in 2018 was the second-highest total). If we lower the cutoff to 24 or younger, we still had 18 such position players — tied for the second-highest all time behind 20 players in 1979.

Here are five of those young players, still 25 or younger, who will drive the narrative in 2020:

Cody Bellinger, CF, Dodgers: An MVP in 2019 at age 23, Bellinger already has 111 career home runs after belting 47 last season. He’s much more than a slugger, however, and with the Dodgers’ acquisition of Mookie Betts, he moves to center field on a regular basis. He should be outstanding there after winning a Gold Glove in right in 2019, as Statcast ranks his sprint speed in the 89th percentile and his jump rate in the outfield in the 87th percentile. The Dodgers are going for their eighth consecutive National League West title, but it’s all about October for this group, and that’s where Bellinger has struggled, hitting .178/.234/.326 in 36 postseason games.

Ronald Acuna Jr., OF, Braves: He just missed going 40-40 in home runs and stolen bases in 2019 at the age of 21, finishing with 41 home runs and a league-leading 37 stolen bases. His ability at such a young age to punish breaking balls is impressive, as he had the ninth-highest wOBA in the majors against curveballs and sliders. He’s got the flair and the bat flips to rile up opposing players and fans, which makes him a focal point in every game.

Pete Alonso, 1B, Mets: He broke Aaron Judge’s rookie record with 53 home runs, won the Home Run Derby, then won over Mets fans with his shirtless celebrations and his “LFGM” rallying cry. Alonso understands his dual role as baseball player and entertainer, especially in a market like New York, which instantly turned him into one of the prominent faces of the sport. Not every player wants that role, but Alonso is willing and eager to accept it. The Mets have a chance to be really good and battle the Braves and Nationals in the NL East, especially if Alonso hits a bunch of bombs again.

Juan Soto, LF, Nationals: He posted a .401 OBP at age 20 in 2019 — the only other players to reach .400 in their age-20 season since Ted Williams were Al Kaline and Alex Rodriguez. Soto then ripped five home runs in the postseason, including three in the Nats’ World Series win over the Astros. He’s good, he knows he’s good and he’s going to get better. Washington has lost Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon in back-to-back offseasons, so the Nationals are now counting on the 21-year-old to carry the offense.

Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, Padres: Another age-20 performer, Tatis’ 84-game rookie season in 2019 was an exhilarating burst of thunder and lightning: .317/.379/.590 with 22 home runs and 16 stolen bases and some dazzling plays in the field (although his overall defensive metrics were poor). Last summer, my colleague Sam Miller called Tatis the most watchable player in the game. As Sam wrote, “A player who is almost certain to do something interesting in a given game; who can frequently do something stunning, unprecedented or GIFable; and who plays in a way that evokes some secondary emotion, apart from the mere thrill of victory/agony of defeat that all sport offers.” He did miss the final month and a half with a back injury, so health is paramount, but Tatis is perhaps ready to lead the Padres to their first .500 season since 2010 — and maybe something more if the young pitching develops.

Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

And I just realized … that’s just five from the National League. That’s how deep the game oozes in young talent right now. You want five from the American League? Here:

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Gleyber Torres, SS, Yankees: Two All-Star trips in two seasons and 38 home runs at age 22. Like Alonso, he’s embracing his status as an up-and-coming superstar, learning English in the minor leagues and seeking out endorsements. As Alden Gonzalez recently wrote, “He realized early on that he didn’t just want to be a professional baseball player; he wanted to be good and popular and transcendent, not because he’s arrogant or entitled but because he’s a long-term thinker who always placed himself within a larger context.”

Rafael Devers, 3B, Red Sox: At 22, he had 90 extra-base hits — more than Ted Williams ever had in a season. He finished with 32 home runs despite going homerless in April.

Austin Meadows, OF, Rays: In his first full season, Meadows made the All-Star team and finished sixth in the AL in slugging percentage and eighth in OPS. He recently tested positive for the coronavirus, so he might miss Opening Day.

Yordan Alvarez, DH, Astros: Alvarez has been absent from summer camp due to an undisclosed condition, but once he returns, watch out. As a 22-year-old rookie, he hit .313/.412/.655 in 87 games.

Bo Bichette, SS, Blue Jays: We could include his teammate Vladimir Guerrero Jr. here, as well, but Bichette had the more electric debut and perhaps ends up as the better all-around player. He has some of the quickest hands in the majors and lined 29 extra-base hits in just 46 games — that’s a pace of 98 over 155 games. He just turned 22 in March.

Most exciting showdowns

Acuna versus Soto: They’re both young, they’re NL East rivals, they arrived in the majors at the same time and they both have best-in-the-game potential. Within every Braves-Nationals game, there will also be a secondary battle going on here.

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Walker Buehler versus Jack Flaherty: OK, they’re in different divisions, so the two young aces won’t actually face each other this season (teams play only within their own division and the corresponding geographical division in the other league), but I will always pair them together since they both reached the majors for a cup of coffee in 2017. Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg are the reigning kings of National League right-handers, but these two are ready to contend for Cy Young honors, and if the Dodgers and Cardinals make the playoffs, maybe we’ll see them square off in October.

Twins’ lineup versus Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger: The Twins set the single-season home run record and added Josh Donaldson, but the Indians have two of the AL’s best starters in 2019 breakout All-Star Bieber and the underrated Clevinger. The AL Central could come down to these showdowns. Bieber went 2-0 with a 3.86 ERA in four starts against the Twins in 2019, and Clevinger went 2-1 with a 2.39 ERA in four outings.

Justin Verlander versus A’s lineup: Losing Gerrit Cole adds a little vulnerability to Houston’s hold on the AL West, and the A’s are ready to pounce, having won 97 games two years in a row. They haven’t been able to solve Verlander, however, who is 4-1 with a 2.58 ERA in seven starts against Oakland the past two seasons.

Gerrit Cole versus everyone: No pressure here, short season or not. The Yankees won 103 games without him, and Cole is the expected final piece to get the Yankees back to the World Series for the first time since 2009. Beginning with that first game against Scherzer, every start — and he has won 16 regular-season decisions in a row, by the way — will be must-watch TV.

Hoping for better results in Year 2

Bryce Harper, RF, Phillies: Harper was very good in his first year with the Phillies and especially good in the clutch (1.149 OPS with runners in scoring position and 1.037 in high-leverage situations), but the Phillies disappointed with a .500 record. The Phillies signed Zack Wheeler to back up Aaron Nola in the rotation and will hope for a healthy Andrew McCutchen and a productive Didi Gregorius. Joe Girardi replaces Gabe Kapler as manager, which could be a positive change, as well.

Manny Machado, 3B, Padres: Last year’s other megabucks free agent hit 32 home runs and played good defense, but his overall line of .256/.334/.462 was well below his best seasons. He struggled in San Diego, hitting just .219, so he’ll have to prove he can match his Orioles numbers without the help of Camden Yards.

Edwin Diaz, RP, Mets: The Mets gave up a lot to get Diaz from the Mariners, and it looked even worse after Diaz had a miserable season (2-7, 5.59 ERA, 15 home runs in 58 innings, a million blown saves, according to AngryMetsFans.com) while Jarred Kelenic became one of the top prospects in the game. Diaz still has strikeout stuff, and he, Dellin Betances and Seth Lugo could be a dominant bullpen trio. (FanGraphs projects the Mets with the fourth-best bullpen in the majors.)

‘Can he do it again?’ players

Shohei Ohtani, P/DH, Angels: Ohtani proved his 2018 season at the plate was no fluke, hitting .286/.343/.505 with 18 home runs — not quite the rate of production from his rookie season, but a lot better than, say, Albert Pujols. Now he’ll be back on the mound, starting once a week, and we’ll once again get to see if a two-way player can perform at a high level.

The schedule is set for MLB’s sprint of a season. Here are the games we’re most looking forward to. David Schoenfield

Schedule winners and losers

60-game predictions | 60-game MVPs

Nelson Cruz, DH, Twins: He turned 40 on July 1 but is coming off an incredible season in which he hit .311 and mashed 41 home runs in just 120 games. He earns bonus points for his clubhouse leadership. Don’t discount the idea of the Twins heading to the World Series, and Cruz would be a major reason why.

Lucas Giolito, SP, White Sox: The White Sox invested heavily in a “win-now” strategy in the offseason, signing Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel, Edwin Encarnacion and Gio Gonzalez as free agents. Highly rated rookies Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal will join the lineup. Their chance to spoil the Twins-Indians race in the AL Central rests heavily on Giolito pitching once again like a No. 1 starter. Two years ago, he led the AL in earned runs and walks. Last year, he finished sixth in the Cy Young voting.

The universal designated hitter and other rules changes

National League pitchers hit .131 with a .329 OPS last year. Unless you like sacrifice bunts and strikeouts, that’s no fun to watch, and I don’t want to hear about the complexities of the double switch. I’d much rather see Scherzer navigate through lineups that might now include Yoenis Cespedes or Marcell Ozuna as a designated hitter. It’s for only one year — at least for now — but get used to it, NL fans, because it might be here to stay.

Three other important rules changes:

Relievers must now face a minimum of three batters, unless the inning ends.

Rosters will start at 30 players before eventually being whittled down to 26.

Everyone’s favorite COVID-19-specific rule change: Extra innings will begin with a runner on second base. Last year, 8.6% of all games went into extra innings. Note that this will not include the postseason.

Most likely playoff teams that finished under .500 in 2019

1. Cincinnati Reds. The Reds most recently made the postseason in 2013, but the NL Central appears wide open, and with a rotation that includes Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, Trevor Bauer and Wade Miley, the Reds could be very good. And, please, baseball gods, let Joey Votto have one more great season.

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2. Chicago White Sox. The White Sox haven’t been relevant since 2012 — they’ve finished an average of 25 games out of first place over the past seven seasons despite playing in the weakest division in baseball — but they’re an interesting mix of young, fun players such as Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada and this new crop of free-agent veterans. If the Twins or Indians falter and Robert and Madrigal are the real deal, the White Sox have the talent to surprise.

3. Los Angeles Angels. Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon might be the best one-two punch in the game, add in Ohtani returning to the mound, the defense of Andrelton Simmons, the underrated David Fletcher and a potential impact rookie in Jo Adell, and the Angels could surprise if they get any semblance of starting pitching.

OK, embrace the sprint!play

1:36

With baseball’s return on the horizon, take a look at the teams of the NL West as they head into an unprecedented season.

Let’s go back to the end of April 2019 — about 30 games into the season, or what will be the halfway mark in 2020. You know who was tied for a playoff spot in the American League? The Seattle Mariners, due to that unexpected 13-2 start. In the National League, the Padres and Diamondbacks were in wild-card positions and the Phillies led the East. Only five teams were more than four games out of a playoff spot.

Yes, baseball is traditionally a test of endurance. That won’t be the case this year, but it will be fascinating to see how teams adapt to the fast-and-furious, two-month chase — for example, those teams that find a way to give as many innings as possible to their best pitchers will benefit greatly. A slow start will bring added pressure that wouldn’t otherwise exist over 162 games. Obviously, avoiding the virus will be key.

So, yes, enjoy the chaos. Here’s how I rank the potential excitement of each division race:

1. NL East: I see a tight, three-team race among the Braves, Nationals and Mets, with the Phillies capable of making it a four-team fight. Note that Harper is traditionally a fast starter, which, in turn, could help the Phillies to a good start. They open with the Marlins, Yankees, Blue Jays and Marlins again, before their first test against the Braves.

2. AL West: The Astros remain heavy favorites, and the A’s have a great infield with Matt Chapman, Marcus Semien and Matt Olson and an intriguing rotation, but the Rangers and Angels have the ability to run off 60 good games, and manager Joe Maddon could bring some new energy to Anaheim, California.

3. NL Central: There isn’t a great team here, but this is the division most likely to end up in a four-way tie with each team at 31-29.

4. AL East: Maybe the Yankees end up running away with the division, but I’m predicting a great two-team battle between the Yankees and Rays. It might even be better than the Boston-Cincinnati showdown of 1878!

5. AL Central: The Twins look pretty tough with that loaded lineup and some new additions to the rotation, but the Indians still have Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, who had a monster 2019 second half after that slow start, and Terry Francona always gets the most out of his team.

6. NL West: Even in just 60 games, the Dodgers should run away with it, but don’t forget 2018, when they were just 30-30 after their first 60 games.

That’s the ultimate point: In a small sample size of 60 games, anything is possible. Heck, maybe the Mariners will even end the longest playoff drought in the majors. And, yes, it will count.

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Yankees’ DJ LaMahieu says contracting COVID-19 was a ‘scary’ experience

6:09 PM ET

Marly RiveraESPN Writer

CloseMarly Rivera is a writer for ESPNdeportes.com and ESPN.com.

Yankees All-Star second baseman DJ LeMahieu resumed his preseason workouts this week for the first time since what he called the “scary” experience of having tested positive for COVID-19.

“It was surprising. It was shocking. It’s definitely a scary thing when you have something that there’s no cure for,” said LeMahieu, who was tested back home in Michigan. “I didn’t really have any symptoms; very surprised I tested positive. I was lucky I wasn’t in contact with hardly anyone when I got the news. I really didn’t do a lot, just kind of hung out and tried to get those negative tests and get back here as soon as I could.”

LeMahieu returned to New York two weeks after manager Aaron Boone announced that he was asymptomatic and self-isolating in his home in Michigan after having tested positive for the coronavirus prior to the beginning of the intake process.

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“I had been in contact with someone who was positive, and I wanted to see my dad, but I didn’t want to see him until I got tested; tested positive and got a call four or five days later and, obviously, really shocked,” LeMahieu explained.

In order to be allowed to rejoin the team, LeMahieu had to be cleared by a Joint Committee selected by MLB and the MLBPA, as directed in the operations manual for the abbreviated championship season. The Joint Committee, which includes doctors and non-medical staff, clears any individual who tested positive or was exposed to another individual who tested positive, to return to work.

Normally, an individual must test negative on two consecutive PCR tests, taken at least 24 hours apart. However, in LeMahieu’s case, he continued to test positive for a prolonged period.

An email sent by the union to all players detailing some of the health and safety protocols, of which ESPN obtained a copy, explained that some individuals will continue to test positive for prolonged periods of time even though they are no longer infected with the virus. According to medical experts, this can happen because the person has noninfectious virus particles that are taking a long time to clear. Any individual who is cleared to return to summer camp has to present absolutely no risk of contagion to others.

“I was taking a test almost every other day,” LeMahieu said. “I think I ended up having about 11 or 12. And it was weird, because I tested negative and then positive, and then negative and negative and negative. It was frustrating because I was feeling 100% normal and still every morning I wake up at seven o’clock to see the result and it was positive. So yeah, (I was tested) pretty much every other day there for two to three weeks.”

While the Yankees bused over to Citi Field on Saturday afternoon to play against the Mets in the first of three exhibition games scheduled in the next three days, LeMahieu stayed back at Yankee Stadium to practice with select members of the team and coaching staff. Boone said he hadn’t gotten a report on LeMahieu’s status when he addressed the media before Saturday’s game, but he had said that the Yankees had mapped out the next four or five days to help LeMahieu get live at-bats.

Boone said that LeMahieu would focus on batting practice, defensive work and training in the weight room in the upcoming days, but that there is no specific timeline for his return to play. The Yankees are less than a week away from their scheduled season opener in Washington D.C.

“Everyone is excited to see ‘The Machine’ back in the building,” said Boone upon welcoming back LeMahieu and envisioning his workout schedule. “The strength and conditioning staff will all make their evaluations in consultation with the player; put a plan of action in place over the next couple of days.”

Hitting coach Marcus Thames affectionately called LeMahieu a “baseball rat,” and said that the second baseman would have no issues letting the team know when he’s back up to speed.

“We’re going to take our time with him, make sure he’s healthy; don’t want to rush him. DJ worked really hard, even when the shutdown was in Tampa, he was there getting work in,” Thames said. “But I’m going to take it slow with him. He’ll let us know when he’s ready. We’re not going to push him. We’re going to make sure he gets good enough at-bats, some live BPs and hope that he’s ready.”

If LeMahieu is not active by Opening Day, the Yankees have several options to start at second base, including versatile players like Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada.

Nonetheless, LeMahieu said that it’s possible that his season debut could come in the first week of games. The Yankees are scheduled to start the season with three games against the Washington Nationals, followed by three games against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park before their home opener, also against Philadelphia, on July 29.

“I think it’s a possibility; I don’t know if it’s realistic or not,” said LeMahieu about playing on Opening Day July 23 at Nationals Park. “I think that’s going to be up to the trainers, and to Booney. But I think I’m gonna be pretty close. If it is not Opening Day, it will definitely be the first few games, but we’ll see. We’ll see how these few days go and for me, it’s just going to be live at at-bats, the more I get, the more ready I can be.”

Right-hander Luis Cessa, who was also revealed to have tested positive for COVID-19, told ESPN he believes he is fully recovered after having two negative tests, but still hasn’t been cleared to work out with the rest of the team. Boone said he didn’t have any updates on Cessa or Aroldis Chapman, who the team announced had tested positive for the novel coronavirus on July 11.

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Answering biggest questions ahead of 2020 season

7:00 AM ET

MLB InsidersESPN

Opening Day for the 60-game 2020 MLB season is approaching fast, and it sure feels good to have some actual baseball action to talk about. Each day over the next two weeks, our panel of MLB experts will weigh in on the biggest storylines of the season ahead.

The topics our panel has hit so far (click the links or scroll down to see the answers):

The best rookie of 2020 will be …

Bradford Doolittle: Whether you’re talking right-now impact, long-term potential or effect on the playoff races, all signs point to Luis Robert. It stinks that White Sox fans might not get a chance to see him first hand this season.

David Schoenfield: We saw Jesus Luzardo of the A’s dominate out of the bullpen last September, but he’ll be in the rotation in 2020 and has the stuff, polish and minor league track record to be an immediate star. He has a four-pitch mix with a mid-90s four-seamer and sinker, plus a changeup and curveball. He’s Kiley McDaniel’s No. 4 overall prospect and top-rated pitcher and he might be joined by fellow rookie southpaw A.J. Puk in the Oakland rotation for a dynamite 1-2 punch that recalls when the Moneyball A’s came up with Mark Mulder and Barry Zito at the same time.

Jesse Rogers: Luzardo should get every chance to emerge in the A’s rotation and a shortened season might fit perfectly for his development. After throwing only 43 innings in 2019 due to injury, a jump into the high 100’s would have been hard to envision in a normal season. But in a 10-12 start year, the talented lefty has a real chance to dominate just as he did in the A’s system as recently as 2018 when he gave up just 89 hits in 109 minor league innings.

Joon Lee: Second baseman Gavin Lux brings a lot of tools to the table at second base, and has the potential to be an offensive game changer after the 22-year-old top prospect hit .347 with a 1.028 OPS last season. Following the offseason trade for Mookie Betts, the Dodgers will feel significantly more urgency than most to come out successful during this truncated season.

Kiley McDaniel: I wrote two articles covering this very topic earlier in the year and the two two hitters (Lux and Robert) and two pitchers (Luzardo and Puk) have already been mentioned *shrug emoji*. Among those remaining, I’m gonna take Jays RHP Nate Pearson. He may put up the most WAR of the group (if we’re gonna be nerdy about it) but he’s for sure the most exciting to watch on top of that, hurling triple-digit heaters as part of a power repertoire that can look like Thor or Roger Clemens when Pearson is really humming.

Who is the player with most to prove in 2020?

Sam Miller: For Shohei Ohtani, this shortened season is a chance to show how the best-case scenario plays out for a two-way star. Playing every day and starting every sixth day is incredibly taxing, and improvising the plan to manage those two workloads over a full year was a lot to ask of him and the Angels in 2018.

Now that Ohtani is healthy again and has a limited-run schedule-in which every starting pitcher has a gentler innings limit-he should be able to pitch without too much fear of exhaustion. We could see the promise fulfilled, a “full” year of Cy Young quality pitching and middle-of-the-order hitting. But if that promise isn’t fulfilled-even in a 60-game schedule-the club and the player might well have to concede it never will, and accept a less transformative, one-way version of Shohei Ohtani going forward.

Bradford Doolittle: In a sense, the pressure valve is probably a loose one for just about all players in this strange context, at least when it comes to external evaluation. Who, really, can be blamed for anything that happens on the field? In a normal season, for a question like this, you kind of drift toward the latest high-priced free agent, especially if he landed in a big market. So while I have no real worries about Gerrit Cole, he does have a big contract to live up to and will try to do so under baseball’s brightest spotlight.

Buster Olney: Pretty much all of the Astros position players. The industry response to them will be largely muted because of the much more important coronavirus concerns, and the idea that they would become human pincushions for a barrage of well-aimed fastballs was probably always overstated.

But the sign-stealing scandal now changes the context for any Astro who struggles at the plate: If some hitter sees a major dip in offensive production, the initial social media response will be that well, yeah, he doesn’t get advance warning on the pitch types anymore – and in an era in which every decision is driven by analytics, even rival teams will make their own assessments about whether a built-in advantage was removed. It’ll be greatly imprecise speculation, but this will be the new reality for those who played on the ’17 Astros.

David Schoenfield: My first inclination was to go with Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who was fine as a rookie, but not spectacular, aside from his Home Run Derby exploits. Two of his rookie teammates, Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio, even produced a higher OPS+. I’m going in a different direction, however, and I feel a little mean even mentioning this guy because he’s going to Cooperstown one day and doesn’t really have to prove anything. But Clayton Kershaw … well, it still comes down to October, doesn’t it? If “prove” is equated with pressure, then no player in baseball has more pressure on him than when Kershaw steps on the mound in October.

Jeff Passan: Mookie Betts, of course. He’s got more to gain than anyone. Nobody can doubt Betts’ bona fides. He was really good last year, slashing .295/.391/.524. But if he can OPS well above 1.000, like he did in his MVP-winning 2018 season, Betts will set himself up for an even greater free agent payday than he’s in line for already. How munificent that is, of course, nobody knows, with revenues in 2020 plummeting and the pandemic leaving far too many unanswered questions for baseball to assume a return to status quo anytime soon.

Who will be 2020’s breakthrough team?

Jesse Rogers: It’s the same team it was back in March — the Cincinnati Reds. They’re an even better pick now that the DH has been implemented in the National League. They’re so deep that last year’s hotshot rookie Aristides Aquino, who hit 19 home runs in only 56 games, began summer camp on the taxi squad. He’d probably start on about 13 other teams in the NL, but, with the additions of Nick Castellanos and Mike Moustakas, the Reds are loaded. Plus, the shutdown gave third baseman Eugenio Suarez time to heal an injured shoulder. The team is stacked from top to bottom, though there are a few questions in the pitching staff. But it’s a team without a glaring hole. The Reds will win the NL Central.

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Jay Jaffe, FanGraphs: The Reds. A lineup that had only two above-average hitters last year (Eugenio Suarez and Jesse Winker) added two more via free agency in Nick Castellanos and Mike Moustakas, and there’s plenty of reason to believe that a healthy Nick Senzel and a more representative Joey Votto can add to that total as well. The new DH lowers the cost of keeping both Winker and Castellanos in the lineup given their rough glovework. Via FanGraphs, their rotation projects as the NL’s third best; they’re solid or better Nos. 1-5, with Luis Castillo being a star in the making and Trevor Bauer capable of much more than he showed after last year’s trade.

Alden Gonzalez: The San Diego Padres. They were still another year or two away in a conventional sense. But shrink the season by almost two-thirds, and all of a sudden a lineup with Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado can have a major impact, and a nucleus of young starters that includes Chris Paddack, MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patino can pitch with fewer restrictions, and a lights-out reliever like Kirby Yates can be used a lot more freely. Yes, the Dodgers are in their division. So what?

Bradford Doolittle: The Chicago White Sox. While their collective young talent percolated in the minors, the right young players were maturing into first-division players in the majors — Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito. Eloy Jimenez is positioned to join them. Luis Robert is poised to be baseball’s biggest sensation over the next couple of months, and I love how Nick Madrigal fits in balancing the lineup on both sides of the ball. When you pepper in the veterans — Jose Abreu, Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel — the Sox are set up for a tipping-point season in their rebuild.

Jeff Passan: The Texas Rangers. This is strictly a bet on starting pitching, which might be a fool’s errand in 2020, but with Mike Minor, Corey Kluber, Lance Lynn, Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles, the Rangers pack five arms capable of going deep into games and eating innings in a season in which other teams will rely on depth to buoy them. The full-on Joey Gallo breakout is nigh; Willie Calhoun is back from a broken jaw to hit, hit, hit; and Nick Solak can rake. Also: If reliever Alex Speas breaks camp, he’s going to be fun to watch. Among the Astros, A’s and Angels, the Rangers need to overcome a difficult AL West field — and maybe they’d have been the savvier pick in an expanded postseason — but if there’s any time to bet on reliable pitching, now is it.

Joon Lee: I’m going with the Los Angeles Angels: With Shohei Ohtani back at full strength, the addition of Anthony Rendon and the rise of top prospect Jo Adell, Southern California’s other baseball team looks significantly more formidable offensively. Toss in the return of Ohtani into the rotation, and the Angels suddenly look like a team that could feasibly make a run in a shortened crapshoot of a season. Questions certainly still revolve around the pitching, where additions Julio Teheran and former Orioles top prospect Dylan Bundy highlight the new starters. Don’t forget the change in the manager’s office too, where Joe Maddon brings his quirky championship pedigree in replacing Brad Ausmus, who lasted only one season with the Angels.

Which 2019 playoff team is set up for a 2020 fall?

Alden Gonzalez: The Washington Nationals for two simple reasons: They lost Anthony Rendon and didn’t necessarily replace him, and they won the World Series last year in spite of a historically bad bullpen. Bullpens will be essential this year. Most starters probably won’t be fully stretched out early on, and teams are going to cycle through a lot of pitching — a lot of players — because of the inevitability of coronavirus cases. The Nationals’ top-heavy pitching staff was a major weapon in October because Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez basically carried the team. The Nats will need much more than that in a season such as this.

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Phillies’ Didi Gregorius says he’ll wear facemask during games due to kidney condition

Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Didi Gregorius told reporters Wednesday that he’ll wear a facemask during games this season, whether in the field or while batting, due to a kidney condition that makes him high risk amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are trying to go through the guidelines and trying to do everything we can do to stay safe,”Gregorius said, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. “So, that’s why people see me walking around with a mask on and stuff. I am keeping myself safe, wearing a mask everywhere I go. So, I have to keep it on me all the time.”

As a player with a chronic condition, Gregorius — who signed a one-year, $14 million contract with the Phillies during the offseason in order to test the free-agent market again after the 2020 campaign — could have opted out and received his full, pro-rated salary for the upcoming 60-game season.

Phillies shortstop Didi Gregorius wears a facemask during practice at Citizens Bank Park. Gregorius said Wednesday he’ll wear a facemask during games all season. Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire

Instead, Gregorius said he has found a facemask he feels comfortable with and will take every precaution in order to play despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think it adds safety for everybody, for me and people around me,” Gregorius said. “So I think wearing it will be normal for me.”

The kidney issue caused Gregorius to miss the first two months of the 2011 season and he returned to play after receiving treatment and changing his diet, according to the Inquirer.

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Fantasy baseball X factors – Pitchers

It seems a bit hard to fathom, judging by the organization’s success the past decade, but despite playing in the most extreme pitcher’s ballpark in the major leagues, no San Francisco Giants starting pitchers show up on initial rosters in more than a small handful of ESPN standard leagues. It sure did not used to be that way! Right-hander Johnny Cueto used to be really, really good and a fantasy staple, and right-hander Jeff Samardzija certainly had his place as a strikeout option. Kevin Gausman was supposed to be a star back in his Orioles days, and Drew Smyly … well, OK — but he was worth rostering five years ago.

Current Giants pitchers figure to look far different in a few seasons, since they are in rebuilding mode, but when discussing X factors in today’s fantasy world, well, there is a potential fit here.

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Brewers’ Eric Lauer out due to coronavirus contact

Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Eric Lauer said Sunday that he’s on the injured list because he was in close contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus. Lauer said he hasn’t tested positive.

The protocols accompanying that situation caused Lauer to arrive late to the Brewers’ summer camp. He made it to camp Friday, nearly a full week after the Brewers’ first full-squad workout. Brewers manager Craig Counsell said Lauer still has a chance to be ready for the start of the season.

Lauer is on the injured list, along with shortstop Luis Urias and pitcher Angel Perdomo. Counsell says Urias and Perdomo have tested positive but are asymptomatic.

Lauer went 8-10 with a 4.45 ERA for San Diego last year before coming to Milwaukee in a Nov. 27 trade that also included Urias.

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MLB summer camp — Players’ first impressions of training during the pandemic

The day-to-day changes Major League Baseball players are dealing with might become routine in time, many players said after the first full week of workouts at summer camp. But the new normal amid the coronavirus pandemic has already had an effect on one aspect of the game that is part of the fabric of sport at any level.

Camaraderie.

Social distancing is contrary to everything players have been taught in regard to being there for their teammates.

“Not giving people high-fives,” Chicago Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber said to a Zoom room of reporters wearing masks. “In baseball, you’re used to patting someone on the back or butt or whatever it is. Now you’re trying to respect everyone’s [space].

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“We’re going to be setting an example for the country as well. You want to set that good example. It might not happen all the time.”

Yes, players say they’re likely to forget to follow the guidelines from time to time as baseball returns, but there’s also likely to be someone there to remind them. That’s what being a good teammate will mean this season as much as anything else. Still, some will want to show their love — but just won’t be able to — including Boston Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke and shortstop Xander Bogaerts. They like to get close.

“I feel like me and him are the same — we like to hug and be kind to people,” Bogaerts said. “So it’s going to be tough.”

The lack of camaraderie was No. 1 on players’ lists of awkward and strange things after a few days at camp, but there were plenty more. Players can deal with getting their temperature checked before entering the park and conducting a Zoom interview with reporters here or there, but no spitting? Is that even possible in baseball?

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“That’s going to be tough for everyone,” Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner said. “It’s just almost second nature. Spitting for a pro baseball player is like blinking. It’s going to be a tough habit to break. … It’s not even just spitting on the ground. A lot of us have routines and habits. You spit a little bit on your glove before each pitch.”

The routines of the day, from arriving at the park to eating to working out and keeping “appointed time slots” for throwing, are not natural, according to Chicago White Sox reliever Steve Cishek. Players are used to being told where they need to be and what time to be there, but that’s usually about bus and plane times, not when they can get into the trainer’s room or even shag flies.

“I feel like we’re back in high school, waiting for the bell to sound before we can go to the next class,” Cishek joked.

Others said wearing a mask inside during workouts was tough for obvious reasons — breathing! — but most came back to the inability to be close with teammates as the strangest part of baseball life right now.

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“We have to keep our distance,” Cubs shortstop Javy Baez said. “It’s weird not shaking hands or having people around you when doing your routine.”

But at least it’s baseball. Sitting at home for the past three months wasn’t feeling right for athletes conditioned for the eight- or nine-month marathon that is a typical major league season. All who were surveyed said they felt the awkwardness of the restart, even in the middle of a pandemic, is nothing compared to what not playing at all would be like. After all, a teammate who keeps his distance can still be a good one. He just has to find other ways to do it.

“It’s just great to be back with everyone,” Schwarber said. “That’s the biggest thing. Getting back to the work, getting back to that grind. That’s overriding all this other stuff that makes it weird.”

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Fantasy baseball H2H categories mock draft reaction

Even in a shortened season in which starting pitching workloads are in question during the opening weeks, it seems the position still warrants a draft-day premium. At least, that’s what the results of our head-to-head “each category” mock draft, held on Thursday, indicated.

Consensus No. 1 starting pitcher Gerrit Cole went third overall, ahead of Mike Trout, Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts. A pair of starters went in the first round, and six of the first 19 picks overall were starting pitchers. Furthermore, 11 of the first 35 selections were starters, including Shane Bieber (31st overall) and Patrick Corbin (35th), as well as 14 of the first 47, adding Zack Greinke (44th), Blake Snell (45th) and Charlie Morton (47th). And, in an unusual strategy for the format, AJ Mass selected starting pitchers back-to-back to open his draft, following up Cole with second-rounder Walker Buehler.

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Compare that to my own rankings for the format, where Cole is fifth, five starting pitchers are in the top 20, eight are within the top 35 and 12 within the top 50 overall. Additionally, starting pitchers have also gone later on average in the NFBC (National Fantasy Baseball Championship) drafts that have taken place since the league announced its 2020 plans on June 23 than they did in our mock draft — and bear in mind that the NFBC is typically more aggressive at drafting the position than we advise for this particular ESPN format.

Perhaps this ties in with my own suggested strategy for approaching starting pitchers in head-to-head “each category” — as well as in traditional rotisserie — drafts. With teams more likely to piece together their pitching staffs at the back end, the aces might well warrant more of a premium than they might have had it been a typical season. It’s the mid-tier starters, not the aces, who should be faded in fantasy, and our results supported that, as only six of the next 47 selections — that’s picks 48-94 overall — were starting pitchers. Note that the top six ranked relief pitchers also were selected within that range.

My strategy for this mock specifically followed that path, as I selected Jacob deGrom ninth overall, before waiting another 123 selections before dipping back into the starting pitching pool. The Mets ace is a strong anchor for a fantasy staff, and the options available in the later rounds were plenty palatable. Frankie Montas, Kenta Maeda and Joe Musgrove, a trio of arms capable of top-25 seasons at the position, wound up as my Nos. 2, 3 and 4 starters in the mock. So long as you can find profitable pitchers in the middle rounds, it’s well worth similarly taking your ace, then waiting. Remember, you can always fill some of the gaps using the streaming strategy.

Availability questions

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As we’ve seen in each of our mocks this past week, players with availability questions, whether due to COVID-19 or otherwise, wound up slipping in the draft in this format. Trout, who went third overall in the traditional roto and ninth in the head-to-head points mocks, lasted until sixth here, going behind both Betts (fourth) and Bellinger (fifth).

Chatter within the mock continued to support the group belief that Trout will miss a minimum of a week’s time after his wife gives birth to their first child in the next month or so, but I maintain that I’d prefer any player who provides me the maximum per-game fantasy performance in a shortened season. That’s still the reason for my first-overall Trout ranking. I want ceilings, and I’ll fill the gaps around anyone’s prospective absences off the free-agent list, at least in daily-transaction leagues.

Freddie Freeman, on the 10-day injured list as he recovers from COVID-19, went 39th overall. Charlie Blackmon, on a similar road to recovery while away from the Colorado Rockies, went 57th overall. Aaron Judge, who has spent most of 2020 recovering from a rib injury but is now expected to be ready around Opening Day, lasted until 105th overall after having previously been a top-50 pick overall in February/March.

Fading bad batting average

There was an apparently huge discount on middle-round, batting average drains/all-or-nothing types. It’s an understandable strategy in a roto-based league but one that seemed to be taken to the extreme in this mock Kyle Schwarber (88th overall selection), Jorge Soler (91st), Rhys Hoskins (119th), Khris Davis (155th) and Joc Pederson (167th) were all players who went at least 10 spots later than the indicated rankings for this format. Those who built up a strong batting average base in the early rounds could have scooped up any of them at a discount, and been more able to absorb a potential sub-.260 number in the category.

However, it was two youngsters who seemed to go awfully late. Eloy Jimenez (67th overall) went 22 spots behind his ranking number and more than 10 spots behind his NFBC ADP, while Cavan Biggio (197th) went 64 spots beneath his ranking — and an even larger margin when compared to the NFBC. Both players ranked among the biggest bargains in the draft, although contrasting this draft to other mocks, these were probably just outliers.

Here come the kids

Rookies have had a greater impact in fantasy baseball in recent years than in the more distant past, and in this shortened season with limited available player pools, the temptation to chase prospects is ever greater. Teams might be more apt to promote their top prospects in a sprint to the 2020 playoffs, and in this particular mock, a few teams took the plunge on multiple such youngers.

Eric Karabell spent the 190th overall pick (19th rounder) on flamethrowing Toronto Blue Jays prospect Nate Pearson, bookending him with San Diego Padres lefty MacKenzie Gore with pick No. 191. On the hitting side, he also added Dylan Carlson in the 23rd round (pick 230).

AJ Mass spent three of his final six picks on prospects with no major league experience to date: Wander Franco, of the Tampa Bay Rays and the top prospect in baseball, with pick No. 198; power-hitting Los Angeles Angels outfielder Jo Adell, with pick No. 238; and Detroit Tigers right-hander Casey Mize, with pick No. 243.

Especially with 13 days remaining before Opening Day, meaning some roles have yet to crystallize, it makes quite a bit of sense to spend your final-round picks — in any format — on high-ceiling players, knowing that there might be a larger pool of free-agent pickups during the regular season’s opening days. Taking a player who might not even be on the Opening Day roster gives you a chance at striking gold — think of Fernando Tatis Jr.’s example at the onset of 2019 — but it also causes you to be less attached to the player if he doesn’t make the cut. Remember, you’ll need players to shed in order to make free-agent pickups in the early weeks, and the worst-case scenario with these examples is that you simply replace these guys come July 24 if they don’t make the team

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