MLB agrees health protocols, confirms April 1 start

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Major League Baseball has set health and safety protocols for the 2021 regular season starting on April 1

Major League Baseball and the league's players union have agreed health and safety protocols for the 2021 season, retaining two innovations introduced during last year's pandemic-shortened campaign, the league said Tuesday.

A statement from MLB said the new 162-game season, which is due to start on April 1, would continue to use seven-inning doubleheader games to ease fixture congestion and use automatic base runners in extra innings.

But the league has dispensed with the universal designated hitter rule used in both the American League and National League during last year's 60-game season.

"We were able to complete a successful and memorable 2020 season due to the efforts and sacrifices made by our players, club staff and MLB employees to protect one another," MLB said in its announcement.

"The 2021 season will require a redoubling of those efforts as we play a full schedule with increased travel under a non-regionalized format.

"We have built on last year’s productive collaboration between MLB and the Players Association by developing an enhanced safety plan with the consultation of medical experts, infectious disease specialists, and experts from other leagues.

"We all know the commitment it will take from each of us to keep everyone safe as we get back to playing baseball, and these enhanced protocols will help us do it together."

Last year's baseball season was left in limbo as Covid-19 shut down North American sport just before the new season was due to start.

After wrangling between league chiefs and the players union, a 60-game season finally started in July.

The MLB had initially proposed a slight reduction in games in 2021, from 162 to 154, with the season starting roughly a month later on April 28.

However that proposal was rejected by the Major League Baseball Players Association meaning the full 162-game regular season will start on April 1. Teams will begin reporting for spring training next week.

Fans were barred from venues during the regular season in 2020 but a limited number were allowed for the later stages of the playoffs.

Spectators will be allowed to attend regular season games in 2021 but capacity will be restricted, with fans required to wear masks and be seated in "pods" of seats six feet apart from other supporters.