BOSTON — When word reached the Phillies’ dugout in the eighth inning Saturday evening that third baseman Alec Bohm tested positive for COVID-19, he left the game and entered quarantine even though he was asymptomatic, according to manager Joe Girardi.
But there were widespread ramifications within the clubhouse, too.
Major League Baseball’s protocols stipulate that unvaccinated players and staff go through contact tracing when there’s a positive test. Because the Phillies are among seven teams that haven’t reached MLB’s 85% vaccination threshold, more people were subject to tracing. When the process was completed, three players — including Aaron Nola, Sunday’s scheduled starter against the Boston Red Sox, were identified as close contacts and placed on the COVID-19 restricted list.
And so, two hours before the finale of a three-game series at Fenway Park — with the Phillies needing a win to go into the All-Star break with a .500 record for the first time since June 19 — Girardi and pitching coach Caleb Cotham huddled to figure out who would start the game and how they would cover nine innings.
“You’re going to have little things like this pop up probably more than teams that are vaccinated,” Girardi said after the Phillies rushed to get infielder Nick Maton and relievers Cristopher Sánchez, Damon Jones, and Mauricio Llovera to Boston from Allentown to replace Bohm, Nola, Bailey Falter, and Connor Brogdon. “You just pray that they’re either a false positive or the guys that are nearby don’t get it. But in the meantime, sometimes you have to lose players that don’t necessarily have it, and that’s the frustrating part.”
Frustrating enough for unvaccinated players and staff to change their minds about getting the shot?
“I doubt it,” said Girardi, who is vaccinated. “Because I think it’s their beliefs, which is OK. People’s beliefs are their beliefs. We all have the ability to have our own beliefs.”
Teams haven’t mandated that players and staff get vaccinated, although some clubs have more strongly encouraged it than others. Girardi reiterated that it’s a “personal choice.” But most team officials, from Girardi and general manager Sam Fuld to president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, concede that not reaching the 85% threshold could put the Phillies at a competitive disadvantage, as Sunday’s episode revealed.
Be that as it may, Phillies players who have resisted the vaccine have their reasons. Some who have gotten it have wondered if it has contributed to injuries. Reliever Brandon Kintzler had the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, felt wiped out, then faced eight batters in an outing that spanned two innings, and strained his neck.
“I think everyone should recover for a week from that thing,” Kintzler said. “Archie [Bradley] strained his oblique after it. [Matt] Joyce had back problems. There has to be some science behind it.”
Bohm left the team and, according to Girardi, was driven back to Philadelphia in a private car. He must self-isolate for a period of 10 days, per MLB protocols, remain asymptomatic throughout that time, and receive multiple negative tests before rejoining the Phillies. Because of the four-day All-Star break this week, Bohm could return as soon as July 21 and miss only six games.
“It just depends on how bad it affects you,” Girardi said. “I would say [Bohm is] one less person that probably has a chance to get it the rest of the year.”
Nola, Falter, and Brogdon could return much sooner if they don’t test positive. They were identified as close contacts based in part on data from the Kinexon tracing devices that all players and staff must wear. Even though the vaccine doesn’t prevent a positive test, vaccinated players and staff aren’t part of MLB’s contact-tracing process.
After short starts from Vince Velasquez (2 1/3 innings) and Matt Moore (4 1/3 innings) on Friday night and Saturday, respectively, the Phillies were hoping Nola could go deep into the game. Instead, they had to lean on the bullpen again. They were fortunate that Boston is a short flight from Lehigh Valley, enabling the reinforcements to arrive in time.
In Nola’s stead, Kintzler started the game as an opener. He was scheduled to face four batters and gave up a homer to the fourth, Red Sox cleanup hitter Xander Bogaerts, to lead off the second inning. Sánchez following Kintzler into the game as a “bulk reliever.” Girardi said he didn’t consider starting Zack Wheeler on short rest.
“Not with the [league-leading 119 2/3] innings that he’s logged,” Girardi said. “If he had 60 innings, maybe. He said he could go left-handed. I said, ‘I don’t think so.’”
Might Sunday’s situation — and the roster scramble that ensued — prompt vaccinated players to encourage their peers to get the shot?
“I think we’re beyond that,” Girardi said. “We’re this far in. I think we’re beyond that.”
No word for Wheeler
Neither Girardi nor Wheeler had heard from Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts about whether Wheeler will start the All-Star Game on Tuesday night in Denver.
Girardi speculated that Rockies right-hander German Márquez will get the start, a nod to the hometown fans at Coors Field. Roberts has hinted that he could also go with Washington’s Max Scherzer, which would be a nice touch considering Nationals manager Dave Martinez and his coaching staff didn’t get to manage in an All-Star Game after winning the World Series in 2019.
If Wheeler does get the start, he and catcher J.T. Realmuto will be the third all-Phillies battery to start an All-Star Game, joining Terry Mulholland and Darren Daulton in 1993, and Steve Carlton and Bob Boone in 1979.