ATLANTA — Former Cy Young Award winner Félix Hernández has opted out of Major League Baseball's 2020 season, at least temporarily ending his bid to revive his career with the Atlanta Braves.
Braves manager Brian Snitker said Sunday that Hernández, 34, opted out due to the coronavirus pandemic. The decision was made after Hernández participated in workouts Friday and Saturday at Truist Park.
The decision came a day after Snitker announced four-time All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman, premier relief pitcher Will Smith, right-handed pitcher Touki Toussaint and infielder Pete Kozma had tested positive for COVID-19.
Snitker said Hernández may have realized "it is way, way different" now as players must deal with the concerns of trying to start the season during the pandemic.
"Everybody told him it would be, but until you live it, I don't think you know it," Snitker said. "As tests come in and outbreaks and things like that, I think it's just human nature to process these things as you have family members involved and children and things like that.
"Things like that aren't a reality until we get here and live it."
Snitker said he didn't know if Hernández planned to seek a return to the Braves in 2021.
Hernández, a six-time All-Star in 15 seasons with the Seattle Mariners who won the 2010 American League Cy Young Award, needed a fresh start after last season, his worst in the majors. The right-hander nicknamed "King Felix" posted a 6.40 ERA, was 1-8 in 15 starts and lost his spot in the rotation.
Hernández signed a one-year minor league deal with the Braves on Jan. 20. The contract included an invitation to big league spring training, and he would have earned $1 million if added to Atlanta's 40-man roster.
He made a strong early impression in Florida and may have been on track for winning a spot in the rotation before the pandemic delayed the season starting with the mid-March shutdown.
"He did exactly what we asked him to do, which is get guys out," Snitker said. "He didn't do anything to not warrant making our club in the spring."
The manager also said no decision had been made on the competition for the final spot in the rotation. With veteran left-hander Cole Hamels apparently on track for the start of the 60-game season on July 23 or 24, the rotation is expected to include Mike Foltynewicz, Max Fried and Mike Soroka.
Soroka said Sunday that having Freeman and other teammates test positive has been a reality check for the team.
"This was a bit of a wake-up call for all of us, and I think for some of our fan base as well," Soroka said. " It's a wake-up call that this can happen and kind of kicked us in gear to make sure we all are in protocol down to the T."
Snitker said he has ample pitching depth, with Sean Newcomb, Bryse Wilson, Kyle Wright and others still competing for the fifth spot.
As for Freeman, if he is not ready for the start of the season, one option at first base is Austin Riley, who is competing with Johan Camargo at third base. Riley, who also played left field in 2019, impressed Snitker at first base in spring training.
"He'd be fine there defensively," Snitker said. "There's no doubt in my mind."
Other options at first base include Camargo and Adam Duvall.