The Phillies’ dress rehearsal started right on time Sunday night at Citizens Bank Park, but it wasn’t the sort of evening that made you wish you had been there.
The 4-1 loss to the visiting Baltimore Orioles was a practice game and it felt like a practice game -- minus the palm trees, the Tiki Bar and the sun-drenched crowds that make spring training in Clearwater, Fla., so enticing.
It was also wicked hot.
Shortly after Zack Wheeler threw the game’s first pitch, the announced temperature was 94 degrees. The heat index was not available, but it definitely was not mask-wearing weather.
Phillies shortstop Didi Gregorius wore his black mask anyway and whenever a runner reached first base, Rhys Hoskins pulled his mask out of his back pocket and covered his nose and mouth.
“I think what was really unique was not having fans in the stands,” Girardi said. “That is what we’re so accustomed to and Philly is such a passionate fan base and you really miss it. It’s important that we had these exhibition games so we were able to understand what the real feel was going to be like. It’s just really strange seeing a few people sitting in the stands and they are mostly players.”
The artificial noise pumped into the ballpark was neither realistic nor energizing, but it did cause a delay at one point with Andrew McCutchen at the plate in the bottom of the first inning. The unintended feedback noise became so irritating that McCutchen felt the need to step out of the batter’s box and glare upstairs for an instant.
Ball girls occupied the left-field and right-field foul lines, and the Phillie Phanatic made a brief appearance but was not nearly as noticeable as normal. Along with Scott Palmer and his dog, the Phanatic also made a scoreboard appearance as did a cluster of fans with well-wishing messages for the 2020 Phillies.
As for the actual baseball, the Phillies could not duplicate the power surge they displayed Saturday night against Max Scherzer even though they were only facing Tom Eshelman, a 26-year-old right-hander they dealt away last season for international bonus pool money.
Eshelman, acquired from Houston in the first trade ever made by Phillies general manager Matt Klentak, never made it to the big leagues in Philadelphia, but pitched in 10 games last season for the Orioles. Filling in for an injured John Means, Eshelman held the Phillies scoreless through 4 2/3 innings and struck out five batters. He is still unlikely to make the O’s roster.
Wheeler, meanwhile, needed 87 pitches to record 11 outs in his final tuneup before pitching Game 2 of the regular season Saturday night against the Miami Marlins. Wheeler surrendered two runs on four hits, including a leadoff homer to Pedro Severino in the second inning. With the count at 3-2, Severino hit a high slider from Wheeler into the right-center field seats.
Wheeler went to a three-ball count against eight of the 16 batters he faced and he also walked one batter. He struck out four.
“I think I’ve said from the beginning that my concern would be with sharpness with guys who have had so few outings,” Girardi said. “I’m not too worried about it. He was excellent his last start, so I’m going to think more about his last one than this one. He didn’t walk a lot of people though. That was the good thing. It just ran up his pitch count fairly quickly.”
The bullpen trio of Connor Brogdon, Jose Alvarez and Victor Arano followed with 2 2/3 scoreless innings before Reggie McClain and Austin Davis each surrendered runs on solo homers. The teams played an extra half inning and the Orioles tacked on a run when Trevor Kelley surrendered a solo homer.
The Phillies have one more summer-camp game Monday night against the Yankees in New York before their season opener Friday against the Marlins. Monday’s game will mark Girardi’s first visit to Yankee Stadium since he was fired as manager after the 2017 season.