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Nationals reverse course, restore minor league pay after Sean Doolittle’s pledge

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WASHINGTON — The Nationals changed course and told their minor leaguers on Monday they will receive their full weekly stipends of $400 at least through June after Washington reliever Sean Doolittle tweeted that the team’s major league players would cover a planned cut in those payments.

Doolittle wrote on Twitter that Nationals major leaguers held a video conference call after The Athletic reported Sunday the club would be releasing more than two dozen minor league players and reducing stipends for players in the minors from $400 to $300 per week.

A text message sent by the Nationals to players in the minors and forwarded Monday to The Associated Press reads: “Upon further internal discussion, you will receive your full stipend of $400 per week through the month of June. We will consider future payments on a month to month basis. Thank you!”

It’s not unusual for big league teams to release minor leaguers at this time of year, although not normally this many. More than 400 young players have been cut with the minor league season in doubt amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Athletic reported that 40 players were cut by the Nationals.

Minor league players not on 40-man rosters were promised $400 per week through Sunday by a policy drafted by MLB. Including Washington’s switch, now at least 16 teams have promised to extend those allowances through the end of this month.

After the report about Washington’s reduction in that stipend, Doolittle wrote Sunday night that Nationals major leaguers decided unanimously that they “will be coming together and committing funds to make whole the lost wages.”

“All of us were minor leaguers at one point in our careers and we know how important the weekly stipends are for them and their families during these uncertain times,” Doolittle wrote. “Minor leaguers are an essential part of our organization and they are bearing the heaviest burden of this situation as their season is likely to be cancelled.”

Doolittle isn’t the only major leaguer to pledge support for minor leaguers. Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher David Price plans to give each minor leaguer not on the 40-man roster in that franchise’s system $1,000 for the month of June, sources told ESPN, confirming a report by Francys Romero. The Dodgers had already committed to paying their minor leaguers $400-per-week stipends through the end of June.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger ready for ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ season

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LOS ANGELES — Cody Bellinger is healthy, his mind is right and he’s ready for whatever baseball’s shortened 60-game season brings.

Bellinger is looking to pick up where he left off after a stellar performance for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2019. The reigning National League MVP batted .305 with 47 homers and 115 RBIs for the NL West champions last year.

“Everything is going to be so weird this year. It’s going to be fun,” he said Thursday on a video conference call. “It could be a once-in-a-lifetime thing, so I’m just taking advantage of what we got.”

What the Dodgers have in addition to Bellinger’s offensive power is Mookie Betts, the 2018 American League MVP with Boston. He joins a team that led the NL with 279 homers last year, but lost to Washington in the division series.

Bellinger, who turns 25 on Monday, isn’t putting pressure on himself to repeat last season’s statistics.

“I just want to focus on what I’ve got to do in order to be good. I’m understanding that a little more,” he said. “Just go out and be as consistent as I can, fine-tune the things that make me really good.”

Bellinger was the NL Rookie of the Year in 2017, and then struggled the following year before rebounding in 2019.

“It was tough sledding for Cody for quite some time coming off that rookie campaign, and you start wondering, ‘Was it real?’ You question the confidence, the mechanical piece,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Everything he does now is with conviction and intent. There’s a talent component, but also there’s a process and preparation component that sometimes you have to struggle to understand the value of it.”

Bellinger spent the last few months working out in his home state of Arizona after spring training came to a halt in March because of the coronavirus pandemic. He focused on fine-tuning his swing.

“I just got to work on it in a stress-free environment,” he said. “Just minor things I think about throughout the year. Figuring out why I was so good and remembering the feeling and not getting too caught up on last year. You’re always evolving. I feel really good with where I’m at this year. It could be a blessing in the long run.”

Bellinger and Roberts said hitters’ concerns about the new batter’s eye in the renovated outfield pavilions at Dodger Stadium are being addressed. First baseman Max Muncy hurt his left ring finger after he said he couldn’t see a pitch that hit him earlier in the week.

“It was a little low,” Bellinger said, “and the seats weren’t blocked off, so if there were fans there, the pitcher’s arm would potentially come out of the stands.”

Roberts said the batter’s eye “is still a work in progress” that may involve changing the paint scheme to matte from gloss, among other things.

During the first week of summer camp, Bellinger has gotten used to drinking out of his own cooler, not having teammates on either side of his locker and having everyone hear what the players say on the field in an empty stadium. Coming from Arizona, where masks in public were not always mandatory, he’s had to don one in California, where they are required.

“I don’t think it’s a hassle to wear a mask,” he said. “If your breath stinks, it sucks. But it just means you brush your teeth a little more.”

Game notes
RHP Tony Gonsolin showed up at camp for the first time Wednesday, appearing on the field in uniform for an evening intrasquad scrimmage. He was one of seven players absent from camp earlier in the day. Roberts said Thursday he could not discuss the reason for Gonsolin missing the first week of camp and the reliever has not yet been made available to media. With LHP David Price choosing not to play this season, Gonsolin might have a shot at the rotation.

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2020 MLB season at a glance — Opening Day schedule, previews, picks and more

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The 2020 MLB season is nearly here — four months later than originally planned.

While this season will be reduced to 60 games, and there will be no fans in attendance at least initially, because of the shutdown forced by the coronavirus pandemic, teams are in camp preparing for Opening Day on July 23 and 24.

Here’s a look at the Opening Day schedule for every team, plus previews, predictions and more as the long-awaited ballgames approach.

Opening Day schedule

All times ET

July 23

Yankees at Nationals, 7 (ESPN)
Giants at Dodgers, 10 (ESPN)

July 24

Braves at Mets, 4 (ESPN)
Tigers at Reds, 6:10
Blue Jays at Rays, 6:40
Brewers at Cubs, 7 (ESPN)
Marlins at Phillies, 7:05
Royals at Indians, 7:10
Orioles at Red Sox, 7:30
Rockies at Rangers, 8:05
Twins at White Sox, 8:10
Pirates at Cardinals, 8:15
Mariners at Astros, 9:10
Diamondbacks at Padres, 9:10
Giants at Dodgers, 9:40
Angels at A’s, 10 (ESPN)

Schedule reaction:

Doolittle: Schedule winners and losers

• Schoenfield: Series we can’t wait to see

• Complete sortable MLB schedule

Previews, predictions

Doolittle: Can 60 games determine MLB’s best team?

60-game predictions: Who will thrive, struggle?

What 60-game MVPs of past tell us about 2020

A .400 hitter? What 60-game stats could look like

Buster Olney’s top 10 at every position

Universal DH Power Rankings

MLB fantasy season FAQ | ESPN Fantasy baseball page

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Phillies All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto ‘not too worried’ about next contract

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PHILADELPHIA — J.T. Realmuto isn’t worried about his contract situation.

The All-Star catcher and the Philadelphia Phillies had preliminary discussions about a long-term deal before the coronavirus pandemic, but talks between the two sides haven’t progressed since baseball returned last week.

Realmuto is eligible for free agency after the season unless the Phillies sign him before he can test the market. He’s expected to seek at least $20 million per season.

Last week, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said the pandemic has changed the landscape of baseball. Lost revenue could affect salaries around the league going forward.

“It definitely concerns me, not necessarily for myself, but for the free-agency class as a whole,” Realmuto said Thursday. “The top guys usually find a way to get their dollars. Teams are going to want them. Maybe it’s not 20 teams in on you — maybe five or 10. A lot of teams will be able to look at this as a time to take advantage and actually go for it instead of backing off, because half the league will try to cut revenue and save money and the others will look at it as an advantage to press forward. It could affect free agency as a whole, but for myself, I’m not too worried.”

Realmuto hit .275 with 25 homers and 83 RBIs and led the league with 43 runners thrown out in his first season in Philadelphia in 2019, earning his second straight All-Star selection. He was acquired from Miami shortly before spring training last year in a deal that sent Philadelphia’s top pitching prospect, Sixto Sanchez, to the Marlins.

Realmuto quickly has become Bryce Harper‘s favorite teammate in Philly. Harper was on base when Realmuto hit a homer in a scrimmage Wednesday. He crossed the plate, looked up in an empty stadium and screamed: “Sign him!”

“I hope he owns the team one day,” Realmuto joked. “I might be able to catch until I’m 60 if he owns the team.”

Realmuto lost his arbitration case in February and received a raise from $6.05 million to $10 million instead of his $12.4 million request. He said he doesn’t harbor any resentment over losing.

“I love this organization,” he said. “They’ve been great to me and my family since I showed up. From top to bottom, they’re good people and they care about baseball. That’s important to me.”

Phillies manager Joe Girardi called Realmuto a “happy-go-lucky” guy who “loves to be on the field,” and he doesn’t expect the contract situation to be a distraction.

“He’s the same person every day, happy to be here, wants to play and help the team win,” Girardi said. “When he came back from his arbitration case, his personality hadn’t changed and he had a smile on his face.”

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