The first glitch in Major League Baseball’s COVID-19 testing system became apparent Monday, with at least three teams canceling their workouts because they had not yet received the results of diagnostics that were taken on Friday.
"So far we have not had these problems," Phillies manager Joe Girardi said. "But we need to get the tests turned around quicker for all clubs."
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Girardi said the Phillies received the results of their first batch of tests — ”intake screening,” according to MLB’s health and safety protocols — within the expected 48-hour window. Most players were tested once over the weekend. The Phillies expect to receive the latest results Tuesday, at which point every-other-day testing will begin, according to MLB.
But the Washington Nationals, St. Louis Cardinals, and Houston Astros still hadn’t gotten their intake results before they were scheduled to work out Monday. The Los Angeles Angels, Oakland A’s, and Arizona Diamondbacks were also reportedly delaying their Monday workouts until their Friday results came back.
In a statement Monday, MLB claimed that "more than 95%" of the intake screenings were analyzed and shared with teams. The remainder were expected to be delivered Monday, according to MLB, which attributed the "unforeseen delays" to the Fourth of July weekend.
On Friday, MLB reported only 38 positive tests among 3,185 total samples collected. Of those, 31 players were infected. In Monday's statement, MLB noted that 3,740 intake screening samples were taken. Through Sunday, 3,654 had been analyzed.
Rigorous testing — and the rapid processing of results — is critical to MLB’s plan to play even a shortened season with regionalized travel in every home city. It’s an ambitious plan, even more perhaps than other professional sports leagues that are attempting to put teams in a quarantine “bubble” or utilize a small number of hub cities to host all games.
"I think there are obviously some things that need to run smoother for this to have a better chance to work, yes," Girardi said. "Am I surprised that there are some glitches? No. Because there's a lot put on everyone's plate in trying to accomplish our goal, and that's playing 60 games and the playoffs."
It was far from the circumstances that the Phillies envisioned for Spencer Howard’s first appearance on the mound at Citizens Bank Park. But the 23-year-old top prospect faced hitters and offered a glimpse of the talent in his right arm.
The question now, though, is whether Howard will break camp with the expanded 30-man major-league roster or remain on the taxi squad at triple-A Lehigh Valley.
If the Phillies keep Howard off the roster for approximately a week, they will retain six seasons of control before he’s eligible for free agency, a tactic that has become increasingly common for teams but has drawn the ire of agents and the players union.
"When I'm going to look at a player, it's going to be performance. That's what I'm going to judge a player on if I think he's ready to go or not," Girardi said. "There are other things that come into play, but I don't make those decisions. I'm going to judge his performance."
The Phillies were cautious in spring training about monitoring Howard’s workload because he threw only 99 innings last year, including the Arizona Fall League. But those concerns no longer apply in a shortened season.