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Keeping players healthy is top priority for Reds’ manager

The Reds’ Jessie Winker hits a lead-off home run in the first inning against the Astros on Tuesday, June 18, 2019, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff
The Reds’ Jessie Winker hits a lead-off home run in the first inning against the Astros on Tuesday, June 18, 2019, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff

Winning a championship is second priority for David Bell

There will be no handshakes or high fives during the 2020 baseball season. Players can’t even spit — saliva, sunflower seeds, tobacco, you name it. The Cincinnati Reds have to wear masks all the time, unless they’re practicing or playing, even in the clubhouse.

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That was the new world manager David Bell experienced this week upon his return to Great American Ball Park, where team workouts will begin Friday.

“With the well being and safety being the priority, there’s no way around the fact that we’re playing baseball also,” said Bell on a Zoom video call with reporters Thursday. “So there’s that balance we have to strike. No matter how great we are (at following the rules), there’s going to be risk, and everyone will understand that and does understand that, but we’re going to do everything we can to mitigate that.”

All of the 57 players invited to summer camp, which will be split between Cincinnati and Prasco Park in Mason, have to undergo COVID-19 tests before being allowed to practice.

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Two players in the organization tested positive, the Reds announced Thursday. The players were not named. According to the Reds, neither player lives in Cincinnati. They were tested outside Cincinnati. They are not in Cincinnati right now.

Keeping the players in Cincinnati healthy for the next three weeks and for the season that follows is Bell’s top priority.

“There’s nothing even close to that,” Bell said. “The second priority absolutely is winning. Winning our championship. The good thing is one leads to the other and will be a big contributing factor. Speaking with staff, front office, players throughout the organization, we have a really healthy balance in how we’re looking at all this. We’re not fearful. But we’re taking it very serious.”

While several players throughout Major League Baseball, including former Reds starter Mike Leake and Washington Nationals veteran Ryan Zimmerman, have opted out of playing this season because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, Bell said no Reds have taken that route.

“As of today, everyone that we expected to be here is here,” Bell said.

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Planning for the season has gone on for the last three months since spring training was suspended March 12. Bell said he’s been on multiple Zoom calls every day and feels the coaching staff is ahead of the game in terms of baseball decisions.

Thirty five players — most of the veterans and returning starters — will train at Great American Ball Park. Twenty two will train in Mason. Bell expects players in Mason to make the 30-man Opening Day roster.

Bell said he will spend time at both locations. He needs to see players, he said, and be around them.

“I really believe we won the quarantine, as far as being prepared,” Bell said. “I know it doesn’t count for any wins in the win column, but I’m very proud of how we we handled it and the preparation of the players and the communication throughout and the respect for what people were going through. Tomorrow will be a big day. Just having everyone in in one place.”

The day will begin with a team-wide Zoom call. Bell said they will run through the health and safety protocols and watch an educational video provided by Major League Baseball. Bell wants to make sure everyone’s on the same page before they walk in the door.

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“Once we get here, it will look somewhat normal,” Bell said. “We’re going to have to keep guys staggered as far as the work a little bit. We have enough room to move different groups around so that we can keep everyone moving, but also keep the group’s small. We’ll see. It ‘s 35 guys with one field. But we’re going to try to use the whole building, too, and there’s quite a bit of space here at Great American Ball Park.”

The Reds will start slow and ramp up the intensity in the second week. It will be hard to stay patient, Bell said, but the goal by the final week of camp will be for everyone to be playing at 100 percent intensity and competing in scrimmages. In a 60-game season, the Reds won’t be able to afford a slow start. They started 1-8 last season, Bell’s first as manager.

“Every game, to me, you approach like it’s the most important game you’ve ever played,” Bell said. “You get as close to that as you possibly can with your approach — like every game’s the World Series. It’s easier in a shorter season to actually accomplish that, but this is what it’s all about. Every single game you play it like it’s everything. Then you quickly move on when the game is over, and you try to do the same thing the next day.”