NEW YORK -- It was a mad scramble on Tuesday afternoon, Phillies general manager Sam Fuld said, after the team placed two players on the COVID-19 injured list during batting practice.
Relief pitchers Bailey Falter and J.D. Hammer were shuttled back to Philadelphia after coronavirus issues arose hours before first pitch while two minor leaguers were rushed in from Allentown.
It was the second time in 10 days that the Phillies placed players on the COVID-19 injured list shortly before a game and replaced them with minor leaguers on little notice. The mad scramble is becoming familiar and it might not be going away.
A sizable amount of the team’s major league roster remains unvaccinated, meaning scrambles like Tuesday remain possible to happen as the team tries to earn the franchise’s first postseason berth in a a decade.
“This is the reality that we’re in,” Fuld said. “It can be frustrating at times and it’s an unfortunate situation that we just have to do the best that we can and rely on depth. Every year is a test of depth, but it feels like more than ever, now. We continue to chip away and make progress toward upping our vaccination rate and that continues to be a conversation with players and staff. We’ve made progress and we’re hopeful that we continue to make progress.”
The Phillies are among seven teams that have failed to reach Major League Baseball’s vaccination threshold, which requires 85% of the traveling party -- players in the majors and triple A, coaches, and essential staff -- to be vaccinated in order to enjoy relaxed restrictions.
Vaccinated players, including those on the Phillies, are not subject to COVID-19 testing or contact tracing unless they are symptomatic. Fuld declined to say if either Falter or Hammer tested positive. A player must miss at least 10 days if he tests positive.
Falter was placed on the COVID-19 injured list on July 11, hours before the team’s series finale at Fenway Park. He was deemed a close contact that day to third baseman Alec Bohm, who tested positive for the coronavirus.
Falter returned to the team on Friday and pitched on Sunday. He played catch with Hammer before batting practice at Yankee Stadium.
Last week at Fenway Park, the Phillies lost three players to close contact -- Falter, Connor Brogdon, and Aaron Nola -- after Bohm tested positive. Nola, who started Tuesday night, said Friday that last week’s mad scramble would not motivate unvaccinated players to get the vaccine. Four days later, they were scrambling again.
“It’s a personal choice. I’ll leave it at that,” Nola said. “I don’t know what other guys are doing. I think you just have to be careful.”
Manager Joe Girardi said last week, “I think the people who haven’t got vaccinated probably won’t get vaccinated.” But Fuld said the team continues to educate players on the vaccine. The Phillies, Fuld said, have spoken to players in both Philadelphia and Allentown through its medical staff, outside resources, and help from Major League Baseball.
“Certainly, we’ve made efforts,” Fuld said. “We’re limited to what exactly we can do, but we’ve certainly made a lot of effort to educate and treat every guy and person on an individual level. Just have conversations and not necessarily have it be one-sided. Everyone has their own unique situations and we have to respect that. We’ve done a lot.”
“Nothing has changed on our end that we believe in the science behind it. We believe that it’s effective and safe and we’ll continue to be here as a resource and answer questions and not let it lie. We are making progress. Our vaccination rate has not plateaued or flat-lined.”
The Phillies have filmed public service announcements this season to encourage fans to get vaccinated, held a vaccine clinic at the ballpark, and offered free tickets last month to people who received the vaccine at city clinics.
Yet the community outreach they have done has not been helped this month when the team is sent into a mad scramble and a sizable group of players remains unvaccinated.
“I can understand that sentiment. I can,” Fuld said. “This is a unique situation where our hands are tied. There is no mandate allowed and we have to respect that. That’s about all we can do at this point.”
Eflin to the IL
The Phillies placed right-hander Zach Eflin on the injured list with right patella tendinitis but are hopeful he will miss just one start.
Eflin had surgery on both knees after the 2016 season and said he was told that the discomfort would return. He’s been able to manage it in the past, but he was not able to after his last start on Friday.
“It’s come up and it’s gone away. But it really hasn’t been kind of this intense as this go-round,” Eflin said. “But I’m not really worried about it. I know it’s going to be fine. I can go out tomorrow and pitch on it. But the problem is not being in my normal mechanics. And then, you know, the arm compensating for other things. And I think that’s kind of the worry about it. So we’re just planning on missing this start and gaining some strength back and hopefully being able to go the next time around.”
Outfielder Mickey Moniak and pitcher Mauricio Llovera took Falter and Hammer’s place on the active roster. ... The Phillies will use a bullpen game on Wednesday and had planned to utilize Falter. ... Bohm rejoined the team in New York but remains on the COVID-19 injured list as he works himself back into baseball shape after missing 10 days.