Felix Hernandez opts out of trying to make Braves due to virus concerns

Felix Hernandez is opting out of the 2020 season, his agent announced Saturday.

The longtime Seattle Mariner signed a minor league deal with the Atlanta Braves in January and was competing for a spot in the rotation.

Braves manager Brian Snitker said Sunday that Hernandez opted out because of the coronavirus pandemic. The decision was made after Hernandez participated in workouts Friday and Saturday at Truist Park.

The manager said Hernandez might 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."

The decision came a day after Snitker announced that four-time All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman, premier reliever Will Smith and two more Atlanta players had tested positive for COVID-19. Right-hander Touki Toussaint and infielder Pete Kozma also had positive tests announced Saturday.

Hernandez, 34, is coming off his worst season in the majors. He went 1-8 with a 6.40 ERA in 15 starts for the Mariners and lost his place in the rotation.

Hernandez was among the best and more durable pitchers in the majors for more than a decade, a stretch that included six All-Star selections and the 2010 AL Cy Young Award. King Felix was a huge crowd favorite at Safeco Field, with fans holding up K cards in The King's Court to mark his many strikeouts.

Before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the sport, the right-hander was set to earn $1 million on a one-year contract if he was added to Atlanta's 40-man roster.

Hernandez made a strong early impression in spring training and might have been on track for winning a spot in the rotation before the pandemic delayed the season.

"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."

Snitker said he didn't know whether Hernandez planned to seek a return to the Braves in 2021.

The manager 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 also is expected to include Mike Soroka, Mike Foltynewicz and Max Fried.

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 Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson and others still competing for the fifth spot.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.