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The defending World Series champion Nationals will begin their title defense without pitcher Joe Ross who declined to play because of health concerns.

PHOENIX – The Minnesota Twins shook their staff on site to protect the health of some of their older coaches. A trio of players, including Diamondbacks pitcher Mike Leake and Nationals batter Ryan Zimmerman, have announced they will not be playing in the upcoming 60-game season.

As Major League Baseball winds its way to a late start in July during the corona virus crises, it’s clear that roster flexibility and organizational depth will be key.

The Twins confirmed on Monday that bullpen coach Bob McClure and Major League coach Bill Evers will not be at the clubhouse early this season due to health concerns. Both coaches are in their sixties and stay with the organization to assist in changed roles.

Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, who was in a Target Field dugout during a Zoom call, said he had known both coaches for a long time and the decisions were tough. He added that both coaches were disappointed.

“I think we all know we’re making the right decision, but that doesn’t mean it feels right,” said Baldelli. “It is very, very challenging to even think about these things and have these conversations.”

But it is precisely the conversations that are held at both organizational and personal level in the MLB landscape. World Series titleholder, Nationals, will start its title without Zimmerman and pitcher Joe Ross, who both refused to play due to health issues.

“We are one hundred percent in favor of their decision not to play this year,” the nation’s GM Mike Rizzo said in a statement. “We will miss their presence at the clubhouse and their contributions on the field.”

Zimmerman, who told The Associated Press last week that he still decides whether to play this year, eventually said he has three young children, including a newborn, and a higher-risk mother due to multiple sclerosis, who made the decision is involved.

“Given the unusual nature of the season, this is the best decision for me and my family,” said Zimmerman.

The 35-year-old – who has been with the Nationals since 2005 – said this doesn’t mean he’s retiring. He still decides his future after this season.

Ross, 27, has five seasons of MLB experience. He played in 27 games last season.

Zimmerman owed $ 740,741 and Ross $ 555,556 as proportional parts of their salary, originally $ 2 million for the first baseman and $ 1.5 million for the pitcher. If they are considered a high risk by team doctors, they will still be paid and receive service time.

Arizona’s pitching reached a hit even before the sport’s second training period begins later this week. 32-year-old Leake is expected to be part of the team’s starting rotation after starting 10 games last season and ending with a 3-3 record and an ERA of 4.35 after an inter-season swap with the Seattle Mariners .

D-backs general manager Mike Hazen did not comment on Leake’s decision, but the pitcher’s agent issued a statement saying that he made a personal decision not to play during the pandemic. The GM also did not say whether Leake falls under the risk category. If he does, he will owe $ 5,555,556 as the proportional share of his $ 15 million salary.

Arizona still has significant pitching depth with Madison Bumgarner, Robbie Ray, Luke Weaver and Zac Gallen expected to take off in the starting rotation.

The vulnerability of the current health situation of baseball has become apparent in recent weeks. The Philadelphia Phillies had an outbreak of coronavirus at their training facility in the spring in Clearwater, Florida, earlier this month. Seven players and five employees tested positive in the organization.

Phillies GM Matt Klentak said the team was “happy that none of the cases, player or staff, were particularly serious.” He said no one was hospitalized.

But the outbreak is another example of how difficult it is to limit exposure.

“What many of us see is how quickly it spread, even in an environment where we were extremely cautious,” said Klentak. “The facility in Clearwater was quite airtight in terms of dizzying times from players signing up to train and clean the facilities in between. Frankly, for some players it was frustrating how severe it was and yet the outbreak still took place. ”

Ron Roenicke (63), manager of Boston Red Sox, said his organization is committed to keeping everyone – especially older employees – as safe as possible. Cleveland 61-year-old manager Terry Francona said he is not nervous, even though he had previous health problems.

“I know I’m probably one of the higher-risk men because of my age and some of the things that went on,” he said. “But the trainers and the doctors were great. I’d rather be around the guys and near the game than not.

“I would be miserable if I didn’t do it.”

Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen said that part of his team’s coaching staff and player development staff falls into the high risk category.

“We don’t have all the clarity as to whether all of our coaches will be here, but we expect to have that clarity here by the time we open on Friday,” he said.

Giants manager Gabe Kapler said the team is trying to be innovative in its approach to training. Players will be in three separate groups, many meetings will be outdoors, and the Oracle Park Scoreboard can even be used for charts if needed. Meals can also be moved outdoors, with players potentially sitting near space heaters due to the cool summer temperatures in the Bay Area.

There is no doubt that the coming season will be unlike any other – if it can be played. Angels manager Joe Maddon, who is 66, said it is up to individual players and coaches to accept and embrace the safety protocols.

“If you want to get in on the expectation of the standards we are normally used to, you will be constantly frustrated, and you cannot allow that to happen,” said Maddon.