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Mets balance baseball, coronavirus as players report Wednesday

An empty Citi Field on March 16, 2020.

An empty Citi Field on March 16, 2020. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

So, where were we?

After MLB shut down spring training because of the coronavirus pandemic 111 days ago, the Mets are gathering as a team Wednesday for the first time. But this isn’t as simple as a regular spring training transferred to Citi Field.

On day one, the Mets won’t work out as a team. Instead, upon a player’s arrival this week, he will go through an orientation process that includes a saliva test for COVID-19 and a blood test for the virus’ antibodies. The Mets’ first official workout will come Friday, after they get the results of that first round of tests. Players, coaches and some staff will be tested every other day for the entire camp and season.

By car and by plane — and, in at least Marcus Stroman’s case, by private jet — the Mets have in recent days made their way to the New York area, the pandemic’s local peak long since abated. Now, they will start to find out if baseball really can pull this off.

One player on the 40-man roster has tested positive for COVID-19. Van Wagenen said he is recovering and should miss few or no workouts. The CDC’s recent estimate that up to 8% of Americans already have been infected — even if they didn’t know it — suggests there will be more positive tests on the Mets and across baseball.

“We will always have some anxiety any time we have testing done,” general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said. “We’ve seen the NBA results [with players testing positive]. We’ve gotta believe that there will be positive tests that come out of these tests at some point in time. But we’ll hope to have as many people and as many healthy people in camp as we possibly can.”

The Mets will try to walk the fine line of managing both coronavirus and baseball considerations.

On the coronavirus side: Since the Mets only have one field at Citi Field — instead of the half-dozen or so at their Clover Park complex in Port St. Lucie, Florida — they will abide by social distancing guidelines in part by having multiple sessions of workouts for at least the first couple of days.

Instead of having all 50 players on their 60-man player pool show up for work at the same time, they will be broken up into two or three groups and use both the home and away clubhouses, Van Wagenen said.

“We’ll have to evolve with the schedule with more information that we see with the players and how they’re responding,” Van Wagenen said. “We’re going to intend to have multiple sessions to keep players fresh and not on the field too long, but also to have staggered workouts so we can have socially distanced practices across both sides.”

The Mets will open MCU Park in Brooklyn, home of the short-season Class A Cyclones, as a backup workout site “in the coming days,” according to the GM. When they do that, the Mets plan to add more players to their player pool.

“We have to make sure we have a facility prepared to handle us, we have to ensure we have protocols that are in place and we also have to have buy-in from everybody that’s a part of it,” Van Wagenen said.

And on the baseball side: Because camp is so short — about three weeks — Van Wagenen said the Mets will play intrasquad/simulated games “as early as the first few days of camp.” They might end camp with a couple of exhibitions against another team.

Pitchers usually take longer to get ready than hitters, and starters take longer than relievers. Van Wagenen said the Mets’ starting pitchers are coming in with various degrees of preparedness. Some have been throwing up to 85 pitches in simulated game-type environments — which is to say, they are very ready for the season — and some have been throwing more routine bullpen sessions.

“Each player understands his body in a different way,” Van Wagenen said. “We anticipate everybody being in a position to come here and face hitters pretty quickly.”

Mets sign Hughes

Righthanded reliever Jared Hughes joined the Mets on a major-league contract, the team announced Tuesday night. Hughes, who turns 35 on Saturday, has a 2.88 ERA in nine seasons, including a 4.04 ERA with the Reds and Phillies in 2019. He spent a month with the Astros this year but was released in March.

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