The Phillies sent a text message to their players Sunday morning, informing them a coronavirus outbreak had occurred on the opposite side of Citizens Bank Park. The Marlins scratched their starting pitcher, their catcher was on the injured list, and their first baseman and right fielder were missing from Sunday’s lineup due to COVID-19 protocols.
The third game of the season - a brutal 11-6 loss to Miami - was an early reminder of how fragile a 60-game season played during a pandemic could prove to be.
“We made sure they knew what was going on,” manager Joe Girardi said.
The Marlins elected to play Sunday after holding a players meeting, dug themselves a four-run hole, and then used their ravaged lineup to jump Vince Velasquez and the punch-drunk Phillies bullpen. The Phillies started the season by dropping two of three to a club that lost 105 games last season and was reeling this weekend from the coronavirus. Now they play four straight against the Yankees.
“We just have to be better,” Bryce Harper said.
Jose Urena, Miami’s scheduled starting pitcher, was replaced with Robert Dugger. Catcher Jorge Alfaro was placed on the injured list Friday afternoon and outfielder Harold Ramirez and first baseman Garrett Cooper were not in Sunday’s lineup after starting the first two games. The Marlins did not provide a reason for any of the absences, but various reports said all four were related to COVID-19. It seemed uncertain for a time on Sunday morning if the game would even be played.
“Our guys made that decision,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “And the conclusion they came to is we’re taking chances every single day.”
The Phillies scored four runs in the first inning, making it seem like Sunday would be a breeze against a roster missing key players. Bryce Harper rocketed a three-run homer off Dugger and Jay Bruce added an RBI triple off the wall.
But Velasquez gave up the lead in the second inning, left after allowing four runs in three innings, and the offense went stale. Velasquez spent most of spring training and summer camp redefining himself as he would no longer be pumping fastballs at hitters. But the results of the new Velasquez sure looked familiar.
“This is something that we all go through. It’s my first game of a new season of new pitches, new arsenal in general,” Velasquez said. “Maybe just kick me in the tail a little bit. But I’m not worried at all. My work ethic, I came a long way to earn this spot. I’m still very optimistic in my workability and what I’m capable of doing. I’m going to continue to build as much as possible. Every day is a learning lesson and I definitely kicked it in my butt a little bit, but I’m definitely very optimistic in myself, my workability, my craft and everything I’ve worked to get to this point.”
The pitching woes continued when Girardi went to his relievers as the thin bullpen was exposed for the second time in three games. Cole Irvin, Reggie McClain, and Nick Pivetta allowed seven runs in 5 1/3 innings. The Phillies addressed their bullpen this offseason by making waiver claims and transitioning starters to relievers instead of spending on free-agent relievers. They have some young arms like Connor Brogdon and Damon Jones at Lehigh Valley that could provide some major-league help.
“I think we’ll probably have discussions after this call,” Girardi said. “We’ll discuss it tomorrow and continue to try to get the most out of these guys and improve what we’ve done so far.”
The Phillies scored just two runs after their big first inning and went 0 for 5 with the bases loaded. Adam Haseley had four hits, but it was the team’s trouble with runners in scoring position that proved the difference. The Phillies left 14 runners on base and went 2 for 13 with runners in scoring position. They left the bases loaded in the fifth, sixth, and eighth innings.
The Phillies said they never considered postponing Sunday’s game after learning about what happened to the Marlins. Harper wore a mask when he ran the bases as he knew several Marlins were playing despite not knowing the results of their pregame COVID-19 tests. The same uncertainty cancelled workouts during summer camp, but Sunday’s game played on. And it was another reminder of why even a shortened season will be a challenge.
“I thought we were all ready to go, ready to play,” Harper said. “We weren’t really too worried about it. Like I said, we do a great job as an organization really following protocols and doing things the right way. Not really getting close to guys, of course first base and when you’re in the batters box, you’re going to be as close to other players, but I think we do a good job as a club understanding that we need to stay away and wear a mask when we need to. Hopefully we can all stay healthy and the odds will be in our favor.”