The Phillies eventually became accustomed last season to playing in front of nearly 43,000 empty seats because of the coronavirus pandemic, Aaron Nola said. The artificial crowd noise did its part, he added. The cardboard cutouts helped, too.
“But you can’t replace human beings in the stands,” Nola said Monday.
If the Phillies have their wish, they could learn as early as Tuesday that roughly 8,000 fans will be allowed at the season opener April 1.
The state relaxed its restrictions Monday on outdoor events, allowing crowds at 20% of maximum occupancy. The Phillies would be able to host roughly 8,500 people per game, but that number also includes players, coaches, staff, stadium employees, front-office personnel, and media members.
The Phillies now wait for the city to relax its restrictions, which currently cap Citizens Bank Park at 2,150 people per game. That number gives the Phillies fewer fans than they have at spring training games and is far fewer than the proposal they sent last month to the city.
A decision could come Tuesday to loosen the city’s restrictions to match the state. Pending approval from the city, human beings will be in the stands on opening day.
“That’s normal to us. That’s what we know baseball as. That’s what we know sports as,” Nola said. “I know myself, playing with no fans in the stands last year, it really made us appreciate them. You really don’t realize it until you don’t have what you have. For them to be on the stands at Citizens Bank Park would be awesome. They get you more in the zone. You hear the crowd get loud. Most of us play off that. We feed off the fans. We feed off the energy.”
Nola pitched the first two innings of Monday’s 4-4, seven-inning tie in Clearwater, Fla., as the Phillies welcomed 1,886 fans to BayCare Ballpark. It was the first of 14 home games this spring. The Phillies are offering 2,200 tickets for each game at the 8,500-seat park.
“It was great,” Nola said. “That was like my second spring-training debut.”
Joyce’s big day
Matt Joyce, in camp on a minor-league deal, made a diving catch in right field in the top of the third inning and homered in the bottom of the inning. He accepted an invite last month to spring training and is in contention for a bench role as a lefthanded-hitting outfielder with pinch-hitting experience, which could be important as National League pitchers will hit again in 20201.
“He’s another guy who understands how to do his job,” manager Joe Girardi said. “He understands who he is and I thought his at-bats were good today. We’ll have him take some ground balls to try and expand his role a little bit, possibly. But love the way he looked today.”
Klentak’s new title
Former Phillies general manager Matt Klentak finally has a new title after his name was removed last month from the team’s online staff directory.
Klentak, according to the team’s recently-published media guide, is a “strategy & development officer.” After his reassignment, Klentak’s name was listed on the website without a title for weeks before his name was removed. Klentak is under contract through the 2022 season.
Nola allowed two runs on four hits in two innings. He threw 29 pitches and used his whole arsenal. Both runs scored on DJ Stewart’s two-run homer off a hanging curveball. Otherwise, he was fine. ... Andrew McCutchen played left field and ran the bases, a nice test for his left knee which slowed him last season while recovering from his ACL injury in June 2019. ... Rhys Hoskins and Didi Gregorius should be in the lineup later this week, Girardi said. Bryce Harper is not too far behind. ... Zack Wheeler will start Tuesday at the Blue Jays and Zach Eflin will start Wednesday at the Tigers. Neither game is on TV.