The Phillies have had a rough go of it lately after losing to the Mets in historic fashion on Thursday night. They received another piece of bad news on Sunday, ahead of their doubleheader against the Mets: Right-handed starters Zack Wheeler and Zach Eflin have been placed on the COVID-19-related injured list.
Manager Joe Girardi wasn’t at liberty to say whether the two pitchers had tested positive for COVID-19, or had shown symptoms, so it isn’t clear when they’ll be able to rejoin the team. They will keep testing in the meantime. The two pitchers will not travel with the Phillies for their West Coast road trip, but if either is cleared to play, it’s possible they could join the team in either Seattle or Los Angeles. To be reinstated from the COVID-related IL, a player needs to be cleared by the team’s medical staff and MLB based on symptom status, negative test results, and time spent in isolation.
The work Eflin and Wheeler are able to do depends on their symptoms, but Girardi said that each starter will keep his arm going in workouts.
As a corresponding roster move for Eflin, the Phillies called up right-handed reliever Francisco Morales. Morales, 22, was converted from a starter to a reliever this season and has seen great results thus far, allowing just one earned run in 16⅓ innings at double-A Reading. Morales found out the news midgame on Saturday, while he was in the bullpen, and said he didn’t believe it was true.
“I thought [my manager] was messing with me, because it was in the middle of the game,” he said on Sunday, through a translator.
This is Morales’ first time on an active big league roster. Girardi said that because Morales pitched on Friday, he’d only use the reliever for an inning at most on Sunday.
As a corresponding roster move for Wheeler, the Phillies added right-handed Connor Brogdon to the active roster. Brogdon has been pitching at triple-A Lehigh Valley since April 14, in an attempt to build his arm strength and get his velocity back to where it was last season. He has a 1.35 ERA in 6⅔ innings at Lehigh Valley with 13 strikeouts. Girardi said on Sunday that Brogdon’s velocity is still not where they’d like it to be, but they’re confident that it’ll come with time.
Left-handed pitcher Cristopher Sánchez, who was the 27th man for Sunday’s doubleheader, started Game 2 for the Phillies in place of Eflin and surrendered two hits and two runs in 2⅓ innings. The Mets’ Pete Alonso hit a two-run homer off Sánchez in the first inning.
But this still leaves the Phillies in need of a starter for Wednesday and Thursday’s games against the Mariners and the Dodgers. Girardi said that the team is still working through some scenarios and that it’s possible that Wheeler and/or Eflin could be the COVID-related IL by that point. A bullpen game is another possibility. The manager declined to specify which names the Phillies are considering to fill in for Eflin and Wheeler because players have not been informed of the team’s plans for Wednesday and Thursday yet.
If the Phillies had one more player on the COVID-related IL, they’d be able to add a non-40-man player to the active roster without having to risk losing the player moved off the 40-man as a corresponding move (to a potential waiver claim by another team). But because the Phillies only have two players on the COVID-related IL, they’d still be subject to that risk if they chose to add a non-40 man player to the active roster.