The Los Angeles Dodgers are scheduled to play their first 2020 exhibition game at Dodger Stadium Sunday, nearly four months later than originally planned.
The coronavirus outbreak prompted cancellation of spring training games after March 12. The Dodgers had 13 spring training games canceled, including Freeway Series games at Dodger Stadium against the Los Angeles Angels March 23-24.
Like most sporting events around the world, fans will be barred from attending Sunday’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks under public health directives prohibiting public events and gatherings.
The game will be different from Dodger games in past seasons for several reasons.
Major League Baseball has instituted a set of health and safety protocols that will effect the game even before the first pitch. There will be no pre-game exchange of lineup cards. Instead, each team will input their lineup card into a mobile app provided by MLB.
Umpires will then print lineup cards for both teams approximately 15 minutes before the first pitch. At the home plate meeting — where participants will be 6 feet apart — teams should confirm their lineups with the home plate umpire and inform him of any changes made since it was printed.
There will be “markers in the dugouts so guys aren’t sitting next to each other” and players sitting in the stands, Dodger manager Dave Roberts said in a Zoom call with reporters Saturday.
Teams are required to provide expanded dugout and bullpen space.
All non-playing personnel must wear face coverings at all times in the dugout and bullpen.
The Dodgers will have around 35 players in uniform Sunday, a similar figure to the first exhibition game at Dodger Stadium in past seasons, a team official said.
The protocols call for players, umpires and other on-field personnel “to practice physical distancing to the extent possible within the limitations of competition and the fundamentals of baseball.”
When the ball is out of play, fielders are encouraged to retreat several steps away from the baserunner.
If the batter is in the batter’s box and the catcher needs to stand to relay signs to the infielders, the catcher can step onto the grass towards the mound to give the signs before assuming his position behind home plate.
First and third base coaches should remain in or behind the coach’s box and not approach a baserunner, fielder or umpire on-field.
Players on opposite teams should not socialize, fraternize or come within 6 feet of each other before the game, during warm-ups, in between innings or after the game.
Prohibitions against unsportsmanlike conduct will be strictly enforced to prevent unnecessary physical contact and support physical distancing between individuals on the playing field.
Players or managers who leave their positions to argue with umpires, come within 6 feet of an umpire or opposing player or manager to argue or fight are subject to immediate ejection and discipline, including fines and suspensions.
On-field personnel must stand at least 6 feet apart during the singing of the national anthem.
Spitting is prohibited at all times in club facilities, including on the field.
Players and all other on-field personnel must make every effort to avoid touching their face with their hands, including giving signs, wiping away sweat with their hands, licking their fingers and whistling with their fingers.
Pitchers will be allowed to carry a small wet rag in their back pocket to be used for moisture in lieu of licking their fingers. Pitchers may not access the rag while on the pitching rubber and must clearly wipe the fingers of his pitching hand dry before touching the ball or the pitcher’s plate.
Water is the only substance allowed on the rag.
MLB’s Operations Manual calls for players to keep and use their own personal equipment, whenever possible, in order to minimize the amount of communal equipment touched by multiple players and other on-field personnel.
Pitchers should bring their own rosin bag to the mound.
After batting, players must retrieve their own equipment such as their fielding glove, cap and sunglasses from the dugout prior to taking the field, and should not have teammates, coaches, or other staff retrieve or toss them.
Any communal equipment must be disinfected regularly throughout each game. Club personnel responsible for handling player equipment should change their gloves or wash their hands (or both) regularly during games. A player or coach should never handle another player’s equipment.
Any baseball that is put in play and touched by multiple players shall be removed and exchanged for a new baseball. After an out, players are strongly discouraged from throwing the ball around the infield.
Baseballs used for batting practice should be cycled out at the end of each day and not be reused for at least five days.
National League games will include the use of the designated hitter for the first time in an attempt to avoid pitchers being injured when they are batters or baserunners. The DH had been limited to American League games and interleague games when an American League team is the home team.
Each half-inning of a game going into extra innings will begin with a runner on second base in an attempt to reduce long games and the strain they place on pitchers.
“We want to be a positive example of responsibly returning to work with extensive health and safety protocols,” an MLB spokesperson told City News Service. “Our goals are to provide enjoyment and normalcy for sports fans during these unprecedented times.”
Rookie right-hander Mitchell White will be the Dodgers starting pitcher Sunday. He was their second-round choice in the 2016 MLB draft, the 65th overall selection, after pitching two seasons for Santa Clara University. He made three appearances in relief in spring training with a 6.00 ERA and 1-0 record in three innings.
White has a 14-15 career record with a 3.97 ERA in 67 starts and eight relief appearances in four seasons in the minor leagues. He has not pitched in the major leagues.
The Diamondbacks will also start a 25-year-old rookie right-hander who has not pitched in the major leagues, Taylor Widener. Widener was chosen in the 12th round of the 2016 draft by the New York Yankees, the 368th overall selection, after pitching three seasons for the University of South Carolina.
Widener made two relief appearances in spring training with no record and a 9.00 ERA in five innings. He has a 21-23 record and 4.08 ERA in 77 starts and 12 relief appearances in four seasons in the minor leagues.
Widener was acquired by the Diamonbacks from the Yankees in a three-team Feb. 20, 2018 that also involved the Tampa Bay Rays.
Sunday’s exhibition will be the first of three for the Dodgers as they prepare for Thursday night’s opener of the abbreviated 60-game regular season against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium. They will face the Diamondbacks again Monday and Los Angeles Angels Tuesday, all at Dodger Stadium.
All three games will be carried by Spectrum SportsNet LA which will be available to DirecTV subscribers for the first time in its seven-season history.