The Phillies played Thursday afternoon at a quiet Citizens Bank Park, one final workout before they begin a season of 60 games in front of empty seats and artificial crowd noise. It will be a season played against the backdrop of a pandemic, where players are tested every other day for COVID-19 and have the option to play while wearing masks.
It will be strange, but it will be baseball on Friday night when the Phillies take the field in South Philly against Miami for opening day at a closed ballpark.
“We need to go out there and play our game and not really worry about if anybody’s in the stands or not,” Bryce Harper said. “Nobody can change that... . We’re going to be playing for each other and for everybody at home as well. They deserve that, and our teammates do as well.”
The Phillies will begin the season with 30 players, as each team was granted four extra players for the first two weeks. The Phillies assembled a roster of 16 pitchers and 14 position players. West Chester’s Phil Gosselin will be added officially on Friday as a utility infielder. Rosters will be trimmed to 28 players in two weeks and to 26 in another two weeks.
They’ll carry 11 relief pitchers, four who have never played for the team and two — Cole Irvin and Nick Pivetta — who are former starters. They built a bullpen on waiver claims such as Deolis Guerra, Trevor Kelley, and Reggie McClain, to add to the arms returning from last season.
The team’s bullpen is questionable at best. And in a season in which starting pitchers might not be ready to pitch deep into games, the bullpen stands to play an important role early in the season.
“I think we’ll have to go slow with it, and we’ll have to see how guys respond each day,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I think we’re going to have to share some of those high-leverage situations in the beginning because of that. But we’re going to look at matchups, and we’re going to match our guys’ stuff up against the guys who are coming up. We envision Tommy Hunter being able to do that, and Nick Pivetta being able to do it,and some other guys. Guerra has some experience. Trevor Kelley has pitched in the big leagues. We’ll bring some of the other guys along slowly is what we have to do.”
They gave one of their final bench jobs to Kyle Garlick, a corner outfielder who joined the team during spring training and has some power from the right side. They told Neil Walker last week that he was on the team, and they informed Nick Williams on Wednesday that he would begin the season at the team’s alternate training site in Allentown.
“We still believe in his talent. We still believe in the person, but unfortunately the landscape of the outfield situation with the Phillies has changed in the last couple years, and it’s been a difficult situation for him,” general manager Matt Klentak said. “We were very open with Nick yesterday. He was very open with us in a really productive and professional and respectful way in both directions. We’re going to take it day by day. He’s still a guy who we really do think is talented and has a bright future.”
“I’ll also tell you I got a nice glimpse yesterday into how good Joe Girardi is in player meetings when having tough conversations with players like that one with Nick. I think Joe, his experience and his care for humans, really came out in that meeting.”
The easiest decisions the Phillies had to make was with their regular lineup and the top of their starting rotation. They knew before summer camp where Andrew McCutchen, Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, J.T. Realmuto, and Didi Gregorius would be playing. They knew that Aaron Nola would top the rotation with Zack Wheeler behind him. And if the Phillies are to finish this strange season as a playoff team, it will be those easy decisions that will take them there. The ballpark might be empty in October, but it will still be the postseason. And the Phillies would take that.
“I try to play with my hair on fire each night,” Harper said. “Single down the line, try to turn that into a double. I play for the guy next to me; play for the guy on the mound, trying to get extra runs for him; score as many runs as we can; throw guys out; have good jumps in the outfield; and play my game. I think every guy on this team has a good opportunity to do that. I think every guy on this team, we play for each other, we play as one. We’re very unified as a team. We’re going to play for the guy next to us and the people at home, as well.”
The Phillies roster:
Pitchers (16): Right-handers Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin, Deolis Guerra, Tommy Hunter, Trevor Kelley, Reggie McClain, Héctor Neris, Aaron Nola, Nick Pivetta, Ramón Rosso, Vince Velasquez and Zack Wheeler and left-handers José Álvarez, Austin Davis, Cole Irvin, and Adam Morgan
Catchers (2): Andrew Knapp and J.T. Realmuto
Infielders (6): Phil Gosselin, Didi Gregorius, Rhys Hoskins, Scott Kingery, Jean Segura, and Neil Walker