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Freeman unlikely to be ready for opener

@mlbbowman
July 16, 2020

ATLANTA -- It seems unlikely Freddie Freeman will be ready for Opening Day, which is scheduled for July 24 against the Mets at Citi Field. But the Braves have not yet determined the season-opening status of Freeman, who has not been able to join the team since testing positive for

ATLANTA -- It seems unlikely Freddie Freeman will be ready for Opening Day, which is scheduled for July 24 against the Mets at Citi Field. But the Braves have not yet determined the season-opening status of Freeman, who has not been able to join the team since testing positive for COVID-19 on July 3.

“I’m sure at some point if he doesn’t get in here, we’ll have to talk about that,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said on Thursday. “But we haven’t decided the date yet.”

Soroka says Freeman's test 'kicked us into gear'

Though the Braves are understandably clinging to the hope of having their All-Star first baseman available as much as possible during the upcoming 60-game season, the fact is the clock is working against them. Or, it might actually be more accurate to suggest it has already expired.

The Braves will enjoy an off-day on Friday and then have three days of workouts leading up to their exhibition games against the Marlins on Tuesday and Wednesday at Truist Park. They’ll travel to New York the following day before playing their season opener against the Mets that Friday.

But before guessing how many days Freeman might need to prepare for the season, it must be remembered he can’t even join the team before getting two negative tests at least 24 hours apart.

Freeman battled a fever for a couple days, but he has felt good for the past 10. But until he gets those two negative results, he will not be permitted to be with his Braves teammates.

So with Opening Day eight days away, it certainly seems unrealistic to think Freeman will be ready for the season opener. Even if he gets the desired testing results within the next couple days, it would not be wise to rush his preparations and possibly lose him over a longer period.

Freeman has been able to swing a bat and do some workouts at his home over the past week. But he hasn’t seen live pitching and he doesn’t want to have a setback like he did in February, when he taxed his surgically repaired right wrist too soon.

“It’s a whole total body thing, getting your body back going,” Snitker said. “I’m sure it’s something we’ll have to discuss. I think after the off-day tomorrow, we’ll be approaching our last five days, and those are issues we’ll have to address.”

While Freeman is unavailable, Austin Riley could serve as the Braves’ primary first baseman. Riley has also been targeted to see a lot of time at third base, though Johan Camargo is also quite capable of handling the hot corner.

The Braves might also be without All-Star reliever Will Smith and right-handed pitcher Touki Toussaint, who still have not tested negative, despite being asymptomatic.

Non-roster first baseman Peter O'Brien was placed on the 10-day injured list on Thursday because he had been in contact with an individual who tested positive for COVID-19. O’Brien was not considered a Opening Day roster candidate.

But given the uncertainty surrounding Freeman, the Braves want to preserve their depth at the first-base position.

Hamels update
While Snitker chose to hold out hope for Freeman, he was willing to concede Cole Hamels will likely be unavailable to begin the season.

Hamels threw a pain-free side session on Thursday, but he remains behind schedule. The 36-year-old left-hander missed Spring Training with left shoulder inflammation. Though he had four extra months to recover, he still was not ready to throw live batting practice when Summer Camp began on July 3. He then missed a side session last weekend because of triceps tendinitis.

The Braves had planned to limit Hamels to three to four innings during his first couple starts. But given he still has not faced live hitters, they will not rush him and possibly further jeopardize the approximate $7 million investment (prorated portion of his $18 million salary) they’ll make in him this year.

“We’ll see where he is when we get back in here on Saturday,” Snitker said. “I don’t know if there is time for him to be ready to go in the beginning. But we’ll see where he’s at after his side today.”

Rotation vacancy
With the expectation Hamels will be unavailable, the Braves could initially fill their rotation’s fifth spot with Kyle Wright, who impressed Snitker while throwing three solid innings during Thursday afternoon’s intrasquad game.

Wright, who is ranked baseball’s No. 52 prospect by MLB Pipeline, was slightly behind at the start of camp because he came in contact with somebody who had tested positive for COVID-19. He stayed away from the team until he received the two negative tests needed to return.

The Braves rotation will include Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb. Josh Tomlin and dark horse candidate Tucker Davidson are among those competing against Wright for the fifth spot.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.