Nationals Ready to Take the Field in Defense of Title

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The Washington Nationals are ready to take the field as defending World Series champions.

The fans won't be there, but the ballpark will reflect the team's new status.

The Nationals are planning to raise a new 2019 World Series champions flag before Thursday night's opener against the New York Yankees. Other festivities include a ceremonial first pitch thrown by Dr. Anthony Fauci and a previously recorded Presidents Race to be shown during the fourth inning.

"We definitely feel a connection with the fans so we're really going to miss them and we'll be thinking about them. We'll be pumping in crowd noise to try to make up the difference,'' reliever Sean Doolittle said.

"I think opening day, like I said, we've got that patch on our uniform sleeve that says world champs. Going out there to start to defend our championship is something we've been looking forward to since the end of October," he said.

The Nationals also say a Black Lives Matter stencil will appear on the pitcher's mound during games on opening weekend.

The Yankees plan to wear a uniform patch this season to honor Hank Steinbrenner, the team's co-owner who died in April.


Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly says adjustments to MLB pandemic protocols are a work in progress, as Tuesday's exhibition game at Atlanta showed.

"Our dugout was a mess,'' Mattingly said Wednesday. "They weren't set up to have guys in the stands. It was raining. There were no tents. So we had all these guys, and nowhere to go. Then we have a zillion guys in the dugout, so there's no way we were social distancing. Those are the things we've got to work through.''

Another problem Mattingly said he needs to solve: When he wears a mask, his glasses keep fogging.


The Milwaukee Brewers had Ryan Braun penciled into their lineup Wednesday night as the designated hitter in an exhibition game against the Chicago White Sox.

Braun had missed recent intrasquad games, raising concerns about his availability for the season opener Friday against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Braun and the Brewers were more confident Wednesday about his potential to be ready for that game.

"My back locked up a little bit. As you guys know who are around us every day, I have a history of dealing with some back things off and on, and then I think my oblique was probably just compensating for the back, and obviously with the expedited preparation process, it's challenging," Braun said before Wednesday's game. "It presented some unique challenges for all of us, but certainly for guys like me who are very routine oriented and have been doing it a certain way for a long time.''


Kansas City's starting rotation is hard to figure out, but the Royals have rookie Brady Singer slated to make his major league debut Saturday at Cleveland.

Singer was a first-round draft pick by the Royals in 2018. He went 12-5 with a 2.85 ERA in the minors last year, splitting time between Class A and Double-A.

"Brady has done everything to show us he's ready for whatever we give him,'' Royals manager Mike Matheny said. "We feel good that Brady gives us a chance to win.''


The Texas Rangers used two designated hitters and a 10-man batting order for their final exhibition game against the Colorado Rockies.

Willie Calhoun was one of the DHs, and he was No. 2 in the batting order nine days after coming out of an intrasquad game because of a hip strain. In another stretch of the rules for the final tuneup for the regular season, Calhoun would be replaced by a courtesy runner if he reached base but allowed to remain in the lineup to bat again.

Ronald Guzman was batting ninth as the second DH. Manager Chris Woodward said the umpires and the Rockies were OK with the plan, though Colorado manager Bud Black joked that he was going to use 11 batters.


AP Sports Writers Howard Fendrich, Steve Megargee, Steven Wine, Dave Skretta and Stephen Hawkins contributed to this report.

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