COVID-19 is suddenly wreaking havoc on the Phillies’ 2021 season. Shortly before their series opener against the New York Yankees on Tuesday night in the Bronx, the Phillies were left scrambling to fill two roster spots after relievers Bailey Falter and J.D. Hammer were placed on the COVID-19 list.
Falter and Hammer were sent back to Philadelphia and pitcher Mauricio Robles and outfielder Mickey Moniak were hurried in from Allentown, home of the triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs.
With so many Phillies players declining to be vaccinated, there was bound to be a problem this season, and it has become a major one in recent weeks.
Aaron Nola missed his scheduled start in Boston on the Sunday before the All-Star break because he was placed on the COVID-19 list even though he never had the virus. He had, however, been in contact with third baseman Alec Bohm, who remains on the COVID list after contracting the virus. Falter, meanwhile, is on the COVID-19 list for the second time in eight days.
Nola did return to the mound Tuesday against the Yankees, but his worst season since 2016 continued. The veteran right-hander allowed four runs on seven hits, including a couple of home runs, in 5 1/3 innings, and the Phillies lost, 6-4, to a Yankees team that has also been hit hard by COVID-19. Among the Yankees missing Tuesday night because of the virus were slugger Aaron Judge and third baseman Gio Urshela.
The Phillies remained 2 1/2 games behind the first-place New York Mets, who lost in Cincinnati.
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Does Mickey Moniak have any trade value?
Thanks to the COVID-19 craziness, Mickey Moniak returned to the big leagues Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium. He did not get into the game, and it’s possible he’ll be back at triple-A Lehigh Valley on Wednesday because the Phillies probably need another reliever in the bullpen for their series finale against the Yankees.
Regardless, Moniak was worthy of the promotion based on his recent performance, and that’s something we could not always say in the past when the Phillies have brought him to the big leagues. Moniak was riding a 10-game hitting streak during which he was batting .395 with five doubles, a triple, two home runs and 11 RBIs for the IronPigs.
His hot streak actually started with a two-hit game on the final day of June. Since then, he is hitting .356 (21-for-59) with 10 extra-base hits, improving his overall average from .203 to .245. His career obviously has not gone the way either he or the Phillies had hoped when the team made Moniak the first overall pick in the 2016 draft, but he is still only 23 years old.
Could he be attractive to another team? With the Phillies in buy mode nine days before the July 30 trade deadline, you have to think that Moniak is one of the players president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski would be willing to use as a trade piece.
The only two minor leaguers who are likely untouchable at this trade deadline are 2019 first-round pick Bryson Stott and 2020 first-round pick Mick Abel. Stott, 23, earned a quick promotion from high-A Jersey Shore to double-A Reading, and after a slow start with the Fightin Phils, he has heated up. In his last eight games, the shortstop was hitting .324 (11-for-34) to raise his overall average from .239 to .259.
Abel, 19, has also rebounded from a slow start to his professional career. After eight starts at low-A Clearwater, he was 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA and he had walked 13 and struck out 30 in 21 2/3 innings. In his last five starts, he is 1-1 with a 2.29 ERA and has walked nine and struck out 33 in 19 2/3 innings. In two of his last five starts, he has pitched five hitless innings.
It will also be interesting to see if Odúbel Herrera has any value at the trade deadline. Herrera started a rehab assignment Tuesday night by going 3-for-4 at triple-A Lehigh Valley. Herrera had been slumping before going on the injured list with ankle tendinitis, and it could be difficult for him to regain his starting job in center field with Travis Jankowski swinging a hot bat.
Beat writer Matt Breen offers his observations about Aaron Nola’s difficult night in the Bronx and some of the other things he witnessed during the Phillies’ loss at Yankee Stadium.
The virus continued to wreak havoc with the Phillies roster Monday night when relievers Bailey Falter and J.D. Hammer were placed on the COVID-19 list during batting practice and sent back to Philadelphia. Starter Zach Eflin was also placed on the injured list, because of tendinitis in his right knee.
Nola knows he has to be better in the second half if the Phillies are going to have a chance to catch the New York Mets and win the NL East.
Tonight: Phillies close out their series with the New York Yankees in the Bronx, 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Lefties Matt Moore and Max Fried face off in series opener between Phillies and Braves at Citizens Bank Park, 7:05 p.m.
Friday: Zack Wheeler vs. Drew Smyly, 7:05 p.m.
Saturday: Vince Velasquez starts against the Braves, 6:05 p.m.
Sunday: Series finale vs. Atlanta, 1:05 p.m.
Stat of the day
Entering this season, Nola had gone six innings or more in 93 of his 139 career starts, a 66.9 percentage. This season, he has gone six innings or more just nine times in 19 starts, a 47.4 percentage. Hitters are also batting .257 against Nola, the highest average he has allowed since 2016, when he finished the year with a career-high 4.78 ERA and was shut down in late July because of a strained elbow. The 17 home runs Nola has allowed are the most through 19 starts during his career.
From the mailbag
Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.
Question: How can you root for a ballclub when the players are actively putting the season at risk by choosing not to get vaccinated? Why should I buy tickets to see a game when the players are risking the season for no good reason. It makes me wonder about the character of this team. — Alan G., via email
Answer: It’s a fair and timely question, Alan. At least based on the responses I’ve seen from the players, they are not too worried about how the fans perceive their “personal choices” not to be vaccinated. But it is understandable that a fan such as yourself would be reluctant to become too engaged with a team when its chances of reaching the postseason could be destroyed in an instant by those same “personal choices.”
If you pay a premium price to see Nola pitch and Bryce Harper play right field and they end up being placed on the COVID-19 list that day because they are unvaccinated, you probably deserve a refund. It’s not the same as a player getting hurt because the trips to the COVID-19 list are avoidable if players become vaccinated.
What’s happening in baseball, of course, mirrors what is happening across the country, and it’s a sad story that is difficult to comprehend.