CLEARWATER, Fla. — Joe Girardi’s position on COVID-19 vaccinations among Phillies players hasn’t changed, even though it may affect the manager’s lineup for a two-game series in Toronto in July.
Girardi, who is vaccinated, reiterated Wednesday that he believes the decision to get the shot is “a personal matter” and said he won’t attempt to influence players’ opinions. The Phillies didn’t reach the 85% vaccination rate among players, coaches, and selected staff members until late last season. Major League Baseball set that threshold for teams to relax COVID-19 protocols.
“Players have to do what they feel is right in their hearts,” Girardi said. “I’m going to stand by them no matter what they do and what they choose. We’ll deal with it just the way we have to deal with it. That’s the only thing we can do.”
The issue came up again this week when New York City announced that unvaccinated Yankees and Mets players would be prohibited from playing home games under the ordinance that has kept Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving from playing in the city. The rule doesn’t apply to out-of-town athletes and therefore shouldn’t affect the Phillies’ roster when they face the Mets at Citi Field on April 29-May 1, May 27-29, and Aug. 12-14.
But Canada’s COVID-19 restrictions aren’t as arbitrary. Unvaccinated foreign visitors aren’t permitted to cross the Canadian border. An exemption that allowed professional athletes into the country ended in January, meaning MLB players who aren’t vaccinated will be denied entry.
The rules may change before the Phillies visit the Toronto Blue Jays on July 12-13. For now, though, the newly negotiated collective bargaining agreement stipulates that those players would be placed on the temporary restricted list, during which time they will neither get paid nor receive service time, a penalty that Players Association executive director Tony Clark said last week “is a concern.”
“As everyone knows, we appreciate and respect the decisions that are made, particularly in regard to player health and community health,” Clark said in a news conference after the CBA was finalized. “But that is an issue, as one in the pandemic itself, that we’re navigating domestically, that we’re going to have to continue to try to work through here moving forward.”
Star pitcher Aaron Nola and third baseman Alec Bohm were among the Phillies players who missed time last season after either testing positive for COVID-19 or being identified as an unvaccinated close contact. It’s not known whether any players who weren’t vaccinated last year decided to get the shots in the offseason.
“I’m not sure what the mandates are going to be once the season starts,” Girardi said. “Things have changed a lot since we were here last year, when you think about it. We weren’t together last year in [the manager’s] office. So things have changed a lot.”
Wheeler still out
Zack Wheeler will remain away from the team for a few more days after coming down with the flu, said Girardi, who admitted the ace is behind the other pitchers in camp.
“You never know how long a flu is going to linger,” Girardi said.
Asked if anything else is bothering Wheeler, Girardi said, “No, he’s good.” Wheeler emerged from the lockout last week and divulged that he experienced shoulder soreness in December. He threw a bullpen session Monday before the Phillies said he got sick.
Lending his Hand
Lefty reliever Brad Hand threw his first bullpen session alongside fellow bullpen newcomer Jeurys Familia. Hand and Familia each signed one-year, $6 million contracts.
Although Hand has 126 saves in his 11-year major-league career, he fits as a setup man for the Phillies. Hand also will be asked to neutralize some of the league’s top left-handed hitters, such as Washington’s Juan Soto and new Atlanta first baseman Matt Olson. Lefties hit .225 with a .667 on-base plus slugging percentage against Hand last year.
Hand, who turns 32 Sunday, said part of the appeal of the Phillies was his relationship with new assistant pitching coach Brian Kaplan. Hand works out at the Florida-based Cressey Sports Performance, which was co-founded by Kaplan.
“Been working with him for a while now, so it’s definitely nice to come here with a familiar face that knows me,” Hand said. “It’s just a good opportunity. Very good team. I think we have a good chance to make a run at things here.”
Hand had a roller-coaster season last year. He posted a 3.59 ERA in 41 appearances for the Washington Nationals, then got traded to the Blue Jays and had a 7.27 ERA in 11 appearances. After getting designated for assignment, he got picked up by the Mets and finished the season with a 2.70 ERA in his final 16 appearances.
The Phillies will make up the games postponed by the lockout with split doubleheaders June 17 and Oct. 1 in Washington and Oct. 3-5 in Houston. ... Former prospect Adonis Medina, designated for assignment before the lockout, was claimed off waivers by the Pittsburgh Pirates. ... Aaron Nola will start and throw 35 pitches Saturday in the first home spring-training game. ... Nonroster right-hander Michael Kelly will start the Grapefruit League opener Friday in Lakeland, Fla., against the Tigers.