Major League Baseball cleared Washington Nationals star Juan Soto to rejoin the team after testing positive for COVID-19 last week, but Soto is still stuck at home while he awaits approval from the D.C. Department of Health.
“We’ll hope to have him back Aug. 1, so he can work out with us Saturday,” Martinez said. “That’s all I got, that’s all they gave me.”
Soto received back-to-back negative tests from MLB’s lab, 24 hours apart, which were required for the league to clear him to return. According to USA Today, he had as many as six negative tests following his lone positive one — three by the league’s lab, three administered directly by the team.
But that report was misinterpreted on social media to mean Soto continued to test positive between the negative results. Soto has not had a positive result come back since July 23, a team official confirmed to The Washington Times.
Soto has remained asymptomatic ever since his positive test, Martinez said, fueling the belief that he had a false positive. It wouldn’t be the first such instance in American professional sports: A positive test caused NASCAR’s Jimmie Johnson to miss a race earlier this month, snapping a consecutive starts streak of 663 races, but he did not test positive again.
Martinez couldn’t comment on what requirements Soto had to pass with the District or why Saturday was the soonest he could return to the ballpark. But he said the 21-year-old was “hurting” while spending time away from the team.
“He wants to be with the guys,” Martinez said. “He’s just waiting, trying to get back as soon as possible. I talked to him this morning. He’s a little down. I told him all he can do is hang in there. We’re doing the best we can to get him back as quick as possible, in a tough situation. We definitely miss him, can’t wait to get him back.”
Soto’s return may have been affected by a lag in testing. In a radio interview, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo noted that MLB partnered with a second laboratory at Rutgers University in New Jersey to help turn around test results faster. Previously the only lab working for the league in that capacity was in Utah, far away from East Coast teams like Washington.
“I think we’re a couple weeks into this thing now. I think you can see — I can see, I do know, that it’s getting smoother and better each and every time,” Rizzo said.
Though Soto could rejoin the team Saturday, the Nationals do not have a game scheduled that day because — perhaps ironically — their original Saturday opponent, the Miami Marlins, had all their games through Sunday postponed due to a massive COVID-19 outbreak among the team.
That means the earliest Soto could make his 2020 debut is next Tuesday against the New York Mets.
“For him, this is kind of troublesome because he doesn’t understand, you know?” Martinez said. “I just have to reiterate that, to tell him, ‘Hey, you just got to stay positive through this whole thing. As soon as we can get you back, you’re gonna be back.’”
The Nationals desperately need Soto’s bat back in the lineup. They only mustered four runs in three games from Sunday to Tuesday, losing all three. Making matters worse for the sluggish offense, Howie Kendrick was a late scratch from Wednesday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays due to upper back stiffness.
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