Nationals star Juan Soto tests positive for COVID-19, will miss Thursday night opener

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Washington Nationals’ Juan Soto reacts during his at bat during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins, Monday, May 27, 2019, in Washington. The Marlins won 3-2. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Washington Nationals slugger Juan Soto tested positive for COVID-19 and was put on the injured list Thursday, forcing him to miss the start of the pandemic-delayed season.

“You feel bad for him. He’s a great player. The fans want to see him. And it affects our lineup,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said as he announced Soto’s test less than five hours before the 2019 World Series champions were scheduled to host the New York Yankees on opening day.

“But what can you do about it?” Rizzo said. “You’ve got to play ball. … We’re going to have to win without our best guy. It’s a challenge.”

Soto, a 21-year-old left fielder who was a breakout star of last postseason, will be sidelined until he can come up negative on two consecutive coronavirus tests.

“He’s asymptomatic,” Rizzo said. “He’s following all major league protocols.”

Rizzo said the Nationals had done contact tracing to check whether other members of the organization had been exposed.

“At this time, there’s nobody else unavailable because of the contact tracing,” Rizzo said.

Soto had missed the first two weeks of the team’s summer camp this month after he was exposed to someone with COVID-19.

Also Thursday, Yankees second baseman DJ LeMahieu was reinstated from the COVID-19 injured list as New York set its opening day 30-man roster before playing Game 1.

Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman and starter Masahiro Tanaka begin the season on injured lists — Chapman on the COVID IL, and Tanaka on the 7-day IL after getting hit in the head by a batted ball.

Manager Aaron Boone announced on July 4 that LeMahieu and right-hander Luis Cessa tested positive for the coronavirus before traveling to New York for the team’s summer camp and said they were self-isolating at home.

LeMahieu signed with the Yankees before last season and hit .327, setting career highs with 26 homers and 102 RBIs.

The Yankees also recalled infielder Thairo Estrada and righty pitchers Ben Heller and Michael King from the alternate site Thursday. That trio is part of a group of eight Yankees making their first career opening day active roster, along with outfielder Clint Frazier, infielders Gio Urshela and Mike Ford, catcher Kyle Higashioka and right-hander Jonathan Loaisiga.

Ford, who went to Princeton and showed some power when he was called up by New York in 2019, posted a message on Instagram, calling Thursday “a very special moment for me.”

“I will finally be able to look at my name on an opening day lineup card in the big leagues. I know the rosters are expanded and it is a strange season, but it is one I will always remember,” Ford’s post said. “If you told me my dream, making the opening day roster for the yankees, as a young kid in New Jersey would come true, I wouldn’t have believed you.”

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