The Phillies were allowed to return Wednesday afternoon to Citizens Bank Park, but the pause to their season was extended by yet another day: Now they must wait until Saturday to play their next game.
Major League Baseball moved Friday’s series opener against the Blue Jays to a doubleheader on Saturday, providing the Phillies with five consecutive off-days to monitor the coronavirus fallout from their weekend series against Miami.
The Phillies are undergoing daily testing to determine if the virus spread during their three games with the Marlins, who remain isolated at their Center City hotel and have had 16 players and two coaches test positive in recent days for COVID-19.
A member of the Phillies visiting clubhouse staff tested positive this week, general manager Matt Klentak said Wednesday, but all coronavirus tests for players and on-field staff came back negative on Monday and Tuesday.
“I think the fact that we’ve had multiple consecutive days of no positives is making us feel better every day,” Klentak said. “I don’t know that if in this particular season that you’re ever going to feel perfectly confident about anything. That’s just the reality of it. But we’re feeling a lot better now having received the results we received this morning and knowing that we’ve got a few more days to get through it before we play against Toronto.”
Major League Baseball postponed the Phillies’ four games this week against the Yankees “out of an abundance of caution” following Miami’s coronavirus outbreak. It was then recommended by the city’s health department that Friday’s game be delayed by a day to allow for an extended incubation period.
That provides the Phillies with the challenge of keeping a team sharp during a five-day layoff after playing just three games in a shortened 60-game season. They were permitted Wednesday to hold staggered workouts at the ballpark as they resumed baseball activity for the first time since Sunday’s game.
The Phillies will likely start Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler in Saturday’s doubleheader. If so, two of their starters will make their second starts of the season before Jake Arrieta and Zach Eflin are able to take one turn in the rotation. A 60-game season played during a pandemic following an abbreviated training camp was going to present challenges for players, but the five-day pause presents a new wrinkle.
“Coming into the year, we knew there would be challenges,” Klentak said. “We anticipated there would be positive cases. There would be bumps in the road. We all in the industry have to do our best to get through them. They’re not going to be easy. That’s why they are bumps in the road. The best thing we can do is try to rally together — both as a team and as a league to make the most of it. It’s going to take the efforts of everybody to get through it.
“I’m not trying to minimize the challenge of it and the competitive elements of it. Those are all very real. I think we have to put health and safety first. We don’t really have another choice. That has to be priority No. 1.”
Klentak said he learned roughly an hour before Sunday’s first pitch that three Marlins players had tested positive for COVID-19. It was Major League Baseball’s decision, he said, to play the game.
The Marlins players agreed that morning in a group text message to go through with the game after learning their teammates were infected. The Marlins organization believed it took the proper precautions to play. Commissioner Rob Manfred said that Major League Baseball completed contract tracing, symptom checks, and temperature checks before deciding to proceed with the game.
The Phillies lost Nola for five days in summer camp because of contract tracing after he came in contact with an infected person. Yet the league proceeded Sunday with a regular-season game even though the majority of a team had likely come in contact with an infected person. Manfred said the contract tracing protocols used Sunday were consistent with CDC guidelines.
“Nobody said this season was going to be easy. In fact, quite the opposite,” Klentak said. “Everybody seemed to recognize from the very beginning that there were going to be challenges. And identifying ahead of time what those challenges would be, that’s not easy to do. But as you go through them, we’re seeing in just the first week of the season how some of these challenges manifest themselves. How individuals react to that is up to them. There is no right or wrong way to view the world here. That’s just reality. It’s not limited to baseball. That extends to all walks of life right now. There’s a lot of people that feel very differently about a variety of issues right now.”
The Marlins won Sunday, decided to stay overnight in Philadelphia as a precaution, and have yet to leave. They have since had 12 additional players test positive for COVID-19.
Both teams spent this week undergoing daily testing and their seasons have been paused while the rest of baseball plays on. Marlins games are postponed through at least Sunday, but their next game is uncertain. The Phillies’ return was delayed by another day, but they finally seem to have an idea of when they’ll be able to return.
“We’ll be ready to roll as best we can on Saturday,” Klentak said.