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Nationals’ Juan Soto tests positive for COVID-19

Not the greatest news to kick off Opening Day with.

MLB: Exhibition-Washington Nationals at Baltimore Orioles Photo by Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Nationals outfielder Juan Soto has tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss the team’s regular-season opener tonight against the Yankees. ESPN’s Jeff Passan was the first to report the news Thursday:

Soto is asymptomatic thus far according to Nationals GM Mike Rizzo.

This feels like the biggest roadblock that MLB’s return-to-play plan has faced thus far. A star player — quite possibly the best player on the defending World Series champions — tested positive and potentially put his teammates, coaches, and opponents at risk despite the league’s safety protocols and testing program.

As The Athletic’s Britt Ghiroli points out, the Nationals dodged a major bullet (at least from a competitive standpoint — almost certainly not from a safety perspective) with Washington, D.C. recently loosening its rules to provide more flexibility for those who have been in contact with COVID-positive individuals. After going through MLB’s contact-tracing program, the Nationals determined that everyone else on the roster is fit to participate in tonight’s season opener.

We’ll see if this goes on to have adverse effects on the Nationals from a health standpoint as testing continues, but for now it’s going to weaken their roster from a baseball standpoint as they try to defend their World Series title.