At 4:34 p.m. March 12, Phillies minor-league pitcher Jonathan Hennigan retired Tampa Bay’s Michael Perez on a fly ball to right fielder Jhailyn Ortiz. The play ended an 8-4 Phillies exhibition victory over the Rays and it also ended spring training 2020 in Florida and Arizona. No other game ended later than that one in Port Charlotte, Fla. and no other games between two big-league teams have been played since because of the nationwide COVID-19 pandemic.

As fate would have it, the Phillies will get things going again Saturday when they play the Washington Nationals in a 6:05 p.m. summer-camp game at Nationals Park. Two other exhibitions -- Cleveland at Pittsburgh and the New York Yankees at New York Mets -- will also be played Saturday night, but those games begin at 7:05 p.m.

When baseball shut down, the reported number of coronavirus cases in the United States was 1,645 and the reported number of deaths was 41. The reported number of cases is now above 3.53 million and the death toll is over 138,000 and rising.

Play ball?

Yep. That’s what they are about to do again whether you think it makes sense or not.

You’re signed up to get this newsletter in your inbox every Thursday during the Phillies summer camp. 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 (extrainnings@inquirer.com)

An empty Citizens Bank Park will not prevent Phillies managing partner John Middleton from being excited about the 2020 pandemic-shortened season.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
An empty Citizens Bank Park will not prevent Phillies managing partner John Middleton from being excited about the 2020 pandemic-shortened season.

John Middleton: No asterisk needed for World Series winner

In a recent interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia, former Phillies shortstop Larry Bowa said he’d be thrilled if his favorite team wins the World Series this year, but he suggested that the 2020 champion should also have an asterisk attached to their name because the season is only going to be 60 games instead of 162.

Phillies managing partner John Middleton had a strong reaction to that line of thinking during an interview Wednesday.

“No. No! No,” he said. “You know what, it’s not the players’ fault that we’re only playing 60 games. Why would you tarnish what they’ve accomplished with an asterisk? That’s not right. That’s not fair. They’re going to go out there and do their very best ... and if they go out their and do that, whoever wins this year has earned the right to be a champion.”

Middleton believes more attention should be focused on what players must go through this season rather than the number of games they are playing.

“You can say they only had to play 60 games out of 162 and that’s different and everything, but you know what, they’ve also dealt with issues that no other teams in the history of baseball have ever had to deal with,” he said. “So how much harder is it to win when you’re taking tests every day and you have all these protocols you have to follow? That should put their efforts in a different light.

“When people say it’s only 60 games and you have to put an asterisk next to it, all they’re saying is that they aren’t doing what we did. But they’re doing other stuff that you never did either. They’re having to deal with issues that nobody else ever had to deal with in competitive athletics, so give them a gold star for that. It’s not just about what they’re not doing, it’s about all the other stuff that they are doing.”

The rundown

The great American debate these days is about mask wearing, but the issue is a no-brainer for Phillies shortstop Didi Gregorius. The Netherlands native has chronic kidney disease and he wants to protect himself and others, so he’s wearing a mask at all times, including during games.

Scott Lauber explains why it is catcher J.T. Realmuto rather than $330-million man Bryce Harper that the Phillies can least afford to lose in this shortened season.

Phillies closer Hector Neris has finally cleared COVID-19 protocol and is now in summer camp. He said he believes he can be successful in a short season because he has experience playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic.

Matt Breen gave us a glimpse of what a season without fans will look and feel like as the Phillies went through some intrasquad games this week with the legendary Dan Baker in his longtime role as the ballpark public address announcer. He also talked to Phillies executive vice president Dave Buck about some of the things the Phillies will do to make things seem a little more normal.

The Phillies expect Spencer Howard to play a role in the 2020 season. Time will tell what that role will be.

Andrew McCutchen is not going to take a knee during the national anthem, but he clearly wants to be a voice for positive social justice change.

Tired of the COVID-19 talk? Scott Lauber provided us with a straight baseball story about the Phillies’ center-field competition between Adam Haseley and Roman Quinn.

While Middleton is pumped for the start of the 2020, columnist David Murphy wonders if there are too many obstacles and distractions for fans to become invested in this baseball season.

The DH is coming to the National League and Jay Bruce thinks that is good not only because it gives him another place to be inserted in the lineup but also because “it takes away from 93 percent of basically automatic-out at-bats.”

Longtime Phillies coach Mike Ryan was not a great hitter, but you did not want to get hit by him. I explain why in my column.

Important dates

Saturday: Aaron Nola pitches for the Phillies at Washington, 6:05 p.m.

Sunday: Baltimore at Phillies, 6:05 p.m.

Monday: Phillies at N.Y. Yankees, 6:05 p.m.

Friday: Opening night at Citizens Bank Park vs. Miami, 7:05 p.m.

July 25: Miami vs. Phillies, 4:05 p.m.

The last non-pitcher to lead the league in sacrifice bunts was the Phillies’ Juan Pierre in 2012 when he shared the league lead with Cincinnati pitcher Johnny Cueto.
YONG KIM / File Photograph
The last non-pitcher to lead the league in sacrifice bunts was the Phillies’ Juan Pierre in 2012 when he shared the league lead with Cincinnati pitcher Johnny Cueto.

Stat of the day

One thing pitchers have not had to do in summer camp that they were doing earlier this year in spring training is practicing bunting for those sacrifice situations when they’d be asked to move a runner. Pitchers have finished the year leading the National League in sacrifice bunts in each of the last seven years. The last non-pitcher to lead the league was the Phillies’ Juan Pierre in 2012 when he shared the league lead with Cincinnati pitcher Johnny Cueto. They each had 17. In addition to his three Cy Young Awards, Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw also has a couple of sacrifice-bunt titles, including last year when he laid down 15 of them. The Phillies’ record for most sacrifice bunts in a season belongs to Kid Gleason, who had 43 in 1905. The major-league record is 67 set by Cleveland’s Ray Chapman in 1917.

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.

Question: Hey! I’ve been a fan since everyone wondered if Larry Bowa would hit enough to start over Craig Robinson, but this is the first season I’m just not excited about. I almost dread it -- and I watched the unexpectedly awful 1989 Phillies play! Is there something that’s a cure for these 2020 baseball blues? Thanks!

-- Will 19008 via email

Answer: Thanks for reading and for the question Will. It’s interesting you mention 1989 because that was my first full year on the Phillies beat after taking over for the great Rusty Pray near the end of the 1988 season at the Camden Courier-Post. Your memory of that season is quite accurate, but expectations were low going in. This Phillies team, at least on paper, should be competitive and has a shot at reaching the postseason. Besides, you have to be at least a little curious to see what baseball without fans is going to look like on television. Give it a chance. You might like it. And if the Phillies are good it will surely help.

As for the Craig Robinson vs. Larry Bowa competition, Robinson never had a chance. It was like a house cat in a fight with a lion.