This was supposed to be the start of the final full week of spring training. Instead, it is the start of the first full week of limbo and uncertainty for the Phillies and all of Major League Baseball.
The first confirmed coronavirus case for an MLB-affiliated player was reported Sunday, and it wasn’t far from the Phillies’ spring-training home in Clearwater, Fla. A Yankees minor leaguer in Tampa tested positive, and the Yankees advised all their minor leaguers to self-quarantine in their hotel rooms for 14 days.
It seems unlikely that the games will resume before May, but we’re going to keep the Extra Innings newsletter going for as long as we can. We’re working remotely, and I should be good at this because my wife is always telling me the only thing I do well is work the remote.
You’re signed up to get this newsletter in your inbox every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. If you like what you’re reading, tell your friends it’s free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @brookob. Thank you for reading.
— Bob Brookover (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Some flies in the ointment had surfaced for the Phillies last week in spring training, and it could be some time until we discover exactly how serious they were, thanks to Thursday’s shutdown of spring training that will delay the start of the season at least two weeks and probably longer.
Early in the week, it was discovered that Seranthony Dominquez, one of the most valuable relievers in the bullpen, had endured a setback in his return from an elbow injury during his second Grapefruit League appearance against Toronto. Then. on Thursday, as news was surfacing about the spring-training shutdown, Jake Arrieta experienced shoulder stiffness and had to be removed from his start against Tampa Bay in Port Charlotte, Fla.
“Nah, I’m not concerned,” Arrieta told reporters after allowing a couple of runs in 3 1/3 innings. “I would have finished five and chalked it up to a day where I couldn’t really get the arm going, but we’re in the spring. If we were in the season, it might have been different. I’ll come in tomorrow and we’ll take a look. I’m confident there’s no issue there.”
All of Arrieta’s words seemed surreal because the hard truth is, regardless of how he feels, he will not pitch again for quite some time and everybody is rowing or, to be more precise, not rowing in that same boat.
Phillies manager Joe Girardi went on MLB Network via telephone Sunday and talked about what he had told the players before they were given the option to leave Clearwater and return home.
“We said, look, we’re going to have time to prepare for the regular season,” Girardi said. "Keep it up like your offseason workouts right before you come to spring training. If you are a pitcher and throwing some light bullpens, do that. Because we really don’t know how long we’re going to be out and then we don’t know how long the season is going to continue. Like, will we play regular season in the month of October? So if you continue to throw five or six innings like you’re used to now, you’ll be out of gas in the month of October.
“So we told our players, just kind of wait by the phone. A lot of guys stayed in Clearwater, especially the rehab guys. And we should know more as time goes on. But we have to be flexible and let the health officials and our government and Major League Baseball do what they have to do.”
Even though a lot of Phillies wanted to remain in spring training for a while, MLB has advised players from all teams to go home as a safety precaution. Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said Saturday that the team planned to hold an informal camp like it does in January ahead of the start of spring training, but like everything related to the coronavirus, what is said one day can become obsolete the next.
The Phillies did make some news Sunday by signing international prospect Yhoswar Garcia, an 18-year-old center fielder from Venezuela. He received a $2.5 million signing bonus. They had planned to sign him last July at the start of the international signing period, but the deal was delayed because of an age discrepancy.
Some Phillies might actually benefit from the delayed start of the regular season, as Scott Lauber wrote over the weekend. At the top of Lauber’s list are left fielder Andrew McCutchen and catcher J.T. Realmuto.
It was supposed to be a big Philadelphia sports weekend in the Tampa-St. Pete-Clearwater area with the Phillies playing exhibition games in Tampa and Clearwater while the red-hot Flyers played the Lightning in Tampa. Two fans from Bear, Del. described their disappointment to our hockey writer Sam Carchidi after the coronavirus outbreak wiped out the entire schedule.
Girardi’s Phillies, at 14-5, not only had the best record in the Grapefruit League when spring training was halted Thursday, but they also had the best exhibition record in all of baseball. That means nothing, of course, but it is interesting to note that the Yankees, Houston, Washington and Minnesota had the four best records in Grapefruit League play a year ago and all four made it to the postseason.
The Phillies have not had a winning exhibition record since 2016, when they went 15-11 under Pete Mackanin, then improved by eight games in the regular season. The Phillies also had just one winning exhibition record during their eight-year playoff drought. Maybe some good things lie ahead for the Phillies, but we’re going to have a long wait to find out.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.
Question: First, let me say how much I enjoy the extra innings newsletter; it’s great. Now, my question: can anyone explain to me why pitchers today are so fragile. From 1950 through 1956 Robin Roberts had 20+ complete games each season and 300+ innings pitched. Bob Gibson in 1965 through 1972 (except 1 year) had 20+ complete games and 275+ innings except for 2 years. I’m sure there are many other examples of this. Were those guys from previous eras stronger or did they just train differently. If training is the answer, then why are today’s pitchers coddled? I’m 80 years old so I remember when pitchers were pitchers. LOL This has always bugged me. — Bob M., via email
Answer: Bob, glad you enjoy the newsletter and we hope to keep it going during these difficult times. You actually answered your own question. Yes, pitchers train much differently today from the way they did when Robin Roberts, Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton were the game’s elite starters. Carlton, for example, had 30 complete games when he won his first Cy Young Award in 1972. Nobody had more than three last season.