Five Nationals players will miss opening day after a COVID-19 positive

Despite a relatively healthy six weeks of spring training and a far smoother ride in testing for and tracing cases of COVID-19, the 2021 Major League Baseball season will begin as the last one did – with a Washington Nationals player sidelined by a positive test for their nationally televised opener.

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo announced Wednesday that a player tested positive and will miss Thursday’s opener, as will four other players who must quarantine after they were identified as close contacts with the player.

Additionally, a staff member was also in the close contact group.

The positive tests comes after a spring in which just 33 players tested positive through both intake and monitoring testing; two players and two staff members among MLB’s 30 teams tested positive in the most recent report issued by MLB.

The Nationals open the season at home on Thursday against the Mets. (Photo: Steve Mitchell, USA TODAY Sports)

Coming off the 2019 World Series title, the Nationals were tabbed to open the 60-game, pandemic-shortened season last July 23 against the New York Yankees. Yet the club announced star outfielder Juan Soto tested positive just hours before Max Scherzer and Gerrit Cole were slated to start the opener.

Now, the Nationals will be a few players short in the 2021 opener, in which Scherzer will face off against another New York ace, the Mets’ Jacob deGrom.

The positive test, while not casting the pall that Soto’s did at a time the game faced significant uncertainty amid the pandemic, is nonetheless a sobering reminder the league is not yet in the clear, even as players and staff get vaccinated and almost all personnel will soon become eligible for the vaccine.

MLB on Monday announced that distancing protocols will be relaxed for teams that reach an 85% vaccination rate among Tier 1 staff.

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