PEORIA, Ariz. — It certainly didn’t sound like baseball had stopped, with the sound of minor league catchers’ mitts popping and pitchers throwing in the bullpens at Mariners spring training Thursday afternoon.
But despite the baseball activity going on around team CEO John Stanton, he spoke of the cessation of spring training and what is next for the Mariners players amid the risk of the coronavirus, which forced Major League Baseball to suspend spring games and delay the start of the regular season to April 9 at the soonest.
Stanton spoke to the major league players before most left for the day and told them he wants them to stay in the area and continue to work out at the spring training complex, given the virus outbreak in the Seattle area and the small number of confirmed cases in Arizona. Workouts will not be open to the public.
“We’re going to continue to have spring training activities except for games,” Stanton said. “Bluntly, we think that the players are safest here in the complex. We can make sure that they are cared for, continue to give them reinforcement on safe distancing and safe behavior, as opposed to having them get on commercial airline flights and go home to a variety of situations and a variety of locations.”
Stanton said a few exhibition games before the opening of the season could take place, but called it speculation. He said the owners are still hoping for a 162-game season, if it starts by April 9.
The league’s decision and the immediate future were on the minds of several players.
Pitcher Kendall Graveman was scheduled to throw in one of two split-squad games Thursday, both canceled due to wet weather in the Phoenix area before the MLB announcement.
“We’re all still figuring everything out. This is a first for everyone,” Graveman said. “Man, it’s invisible, too. So we’re really trying to take precautions. But yeah, it’s crazy.”
Whenever baseball resumes, manager Scott Servais said left-hander Marco Gonzales will be the opening day starter. The club will have to come up with a schedule for him to build up to that point, but with only a target date to start the season and nothing certain, that will be a challenge.
“We just have to be creative if things are shut down for a little while,” Servais said before MLB’s announcement. “Baseball’s different from the other sports in the fact that with pitchers, you have to keep them built up and how do you do it?
“Everybody’s in the same boat,” Servais added. “There’s 30 teams and we all have to prepare, but getting pitchers ready is a little bit trickier.”
Utility player Tim Lopes played third base Wednesday night in a spring training game against the San Diego Padres. He said he learned of the NBA’s decision to suspend the season while on the field at Peoria Sports Complex.
The third base umpire told the Padres third base coach, then Mariners infielder J.P. Crawford informed Lopes while he was warming up between innings.
“I feel like it’s just uncharted territory that we’ve never seen before. It’s definitely scary and I’m definitely praying for the situation,” Lopes said.
Graveman said he thinks it a good idea to remain at spring training.
“The baseball environment, just speaking about that, I think it’s best to stay here instead of going our separate ways and then trying to come back in a few weeks and then trying to get it ramped up again,” Graveman said. “Just to have some structure, maybe it means a few more off days or figuring out times to come in, so we can really focus on our body and continue to stay strong.”
Pitcher Yusei Kikuchi said he was getting into the opening day mindset, and now it is on hold.
“Obviously not just me but everyone here has been working towards that day, opening day, bringing your best condition to opening day both physically and mentally,” Kikuchi said in Japanese, his words translated. “And since that’s being delayed I’m going to have to figure out a way to refocus. The most important thing right now is the safety and health of everyone all over the world.”
The Mariners reassigned right-hander Ljay Newsome to minor league camp, leaving them with 49 players including 13 nonroster invitees in major league spring training when it was brought to a halt.