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Unable to see the sights in Washington because of COVID-19, Yankees enjoy some team bonding

Yankees' Giancarlo Stanton (27) jumps to celebrate his

Yankees' Giancarlo Stanton (27) jumps to celebrate his two-run homer with Aaron Judge during the first inning of an opening day baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. Credit: AP/Alex Brandon

WASHINGTON — A day off on the road for big-leaguers typically means exploring whatever city they’re in, whether it be restaurants, bars or other attractions.

In the age of COVID-19 and the extensive protocols spelled out for players and their responsibilities on the road, that kind of exploration isn’t possible.

“You do your best to kind of stay in your room and keep occupied with some things,” Zack Britton said.

But that doesn’t mean zero socialization.

Britton said Gerrit Cole and Brett Gardner “put together a nice dinner” for the Yankees at the team hotel Friday night.  

“It's not the same as sitting there next to your teammates, but we kept our distance down in this banquet area that we have and we watched some of the games on TV together as a team,” Britton said. “So if anything, I feel like maybe we have a little bit more team bonding than maybe in the past. The biggest thing we’re doing is trying to stay in the hotel and be safe, be healthy.”

Said Chad Green, “Can’t complain about a good steak.”

DJ returns

DJ LeMahieu, who arrived for Spring Training II with only a few days to go after testing positive for COVID-19 just before it began, made his 2020 debut Saturday night, leading off and playing second.

“Just meeting with him, he feels like he’s ready,” Aaron Boone said. “It was kind of the first day I think he felt really locked in where he’s raring to go. I may not play him the whole game —  with the lefty [Patrick Corbin] going tomorrow, I’d like him back in there — but I do feel good about where he’s at physically.”

Strasburg scratched

On Thursday, one of the Nationals' best position players, Juan Soto, was a late scratch after testing positive for COVID-19. On Saturday afternoon, scheduled starter Stephen Strasburg was a late scratch because of “a nerve issue” in his right hand, manager Dave Martinez said.

Righthander Erick Fedde, who was 6-7 with a 5.39 ERA in three seasons with Washington, got the start in place of Strasburg, last year's World Series MVP.

Starter unknown

Boone said before Saturday's game that a starter for Sunday  had not yet been determined.

“We’ll see,” he said, indicating he could go the opener route. “It all depends who we use tonight.”

Mike King could have been an option, but he pitched 3 1/3 innings in relief Saturday night. J.A. Happ is scheduled to pitch Monday night against the team he came up with, the Phillies, for whom he debuted in 2007. Jordan Montgomery, currently at the club’s alternate spring training site in Scranton, is lined up to start the home opener Wednesday against the Phillies.

After their 9-2 loss to the Nationals on Saturday night, the Yankees optioned outfielder Clint Frazier and righthander Ben Heller to their alternate site. They said they anticipated recalling righthanders Brooks Kriske and Nick Nelson from the alternate site before Sunday’s game.

Yankees sign lefty

The Yankees announced they have signed lefty reliever Fernando Abad to a minor-league contract and assigned him to Scranton. Abad, 34, had been with the Nationals as a non-roster invitee.  In parts of nine major league seasons, he has pitched for Houston (2010-12), Washington (2013), Oakland (2014-15), Minnesota (2016), Boston (2016-17) and San Francisco (2019), compiling a 3.67 ERA in 384 career games.

Playoff expansion

Britton, the Yankees’ union rep, said he understands why MLB and the MLBPA agreed to expand the playoffs from 10 teams to 16,  but he isn’t enthusiastic about it.

“I definitely think it's good for the game to create more high- leverage games, if that's what you want to call it, and more excitement, but I wasn't a big fan of the division winners not being rewarded in some form or fashion, so I wasn't really for this,” he said. “But I do see the benefit of increasing playoffs and adding that to our sport. I think it's good for the future. I just felt like it was kind of rushed. The only thing that I would have liked to seen is the division winner, whether that’s us or another team, I felt like if you win your division, you should be either given a bye or something. Something that showed you won your division, and I just don't really see that.”  

Boone agrees. “I wish there was more of an incentive and a reward for the division winner,” he said, “but I also understand in this uncertain environment the expansion on some level.” 

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