Spencer Howard didn’t accompany the Phillies on their bus ride up the New Jersey Turnpike to Yankee Stadium on Monday.
Could the top prospect join them later this week?
It seems possible, especially given the preemptive postponement of Tuesday night’s game against the Yankees because of a tropical-storm warning. The teams will reconvene for two seven-inning games Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park, the first starting at 4:05 p.m. and the second 35 minutes after the conclusion of the opener.
Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler will start the doubleheader, manager Joe Girardi said, followed by Zach Eflin on Thursday night against the Yankees and Vince Velasquez on Friday night against the Atlanta Braves. Jake Arrieta could start Saturday on his normal rest.
But the Phillies would then need a pitcher for Sunday. Howard is lined up to pitch Wednesday in Allentown, the Phillies’ alternate training site. He could throw an elongated bullpen session Wednesday and make his major-league debut over the weekend.
“Obviously it’s something we’re going to have to talk about,” Girardi said. “At some point we’re going to need someone.”
Regardless, Howard is no longer being constrained by service-time issues. Because the season is more than five days old, the Phillies can now call up the 24-year-old right-hander and still control his rights for six full seasons, leaving him ineligible for free agency until after the 2026 season.
If not for the desire to maintain maximum control over Howard, the Phillies might have put him on the opening-night roster. Instead, he has been working out at Lehigh Valley, where he last pitched on Friday.
“Our discussions have been more about how he’s doing opposed to an exact date if we’re going to call him up,” Girardi said. “It’s been more how he’s doing and making sure he’s pitching. As far as a date of calling him up, we have not come to a conclusion on that.”
Girardi and pitching coach Bryan Price met Saturday with Phillies pitchers to gauge their fitness to resume the season after a seven-day lockdown as a precaution in the aftermath of the Miami Marlins' coronavirus outbreak in Philadelphia last week.
"I think we have to be a little bit cautious," Girardi said. "I don't think our pitchers' arms are as far along as most teams. The back-to-backs [with relievers], I would be hesitant to do probably. I will talk to our guys every day. The one thing is: I don't need heroes. I need honesty from our players about where they're at physically. I'll watch very closely."
The Phillies didn’t have access to Citizens Bank Park for four days last week before finally squeezing in team-organized workouts in smaller groups at staggered times Saturday and Sunday.
The Phillies didn’t play for seven days because 20 members of the Marlins’ traveling party tested positive for COVID-19 during a season-opening series in Philadelphia. But if they’re angry at the Marlins for not adhering to MLB protocols about not leaving the team hotel on the road, they have decided to take the high road.
“Look, I think everyone would be lying if they said they weren’t frustrated,” said first baseman Rhys Hoskins, the Phillies’ union representative. “But we knew the volatility of the virus coming into the season. We knew these things were a possibility. Not ideal, but here we are. We’ll continue to follow protocols as we have been, and hopefully it will be smooth sailing from here.”
Said Girardi: “For me to judge, I could walk in one day and have COVID here and not know it and spread it around. What I hadn’t thought about until I actually witnessed it: Those players feel a real guilt and remorse about something that sometimes couldn’t have been avoided.”