Phillies GM Matt Klentak discusses the challenging week Marlins outbreak has presented

Phillies GM Matt Klentak discusses the challenging week Marlins outbreak has presented

Major League Baseball ramped up testing on the Phillies in the wake of the Miami Marlins' COVID-19 outbreak and so far, so good. 

Not only have no Phillies players tested positive this week — no Phillies players have tested positive "since our intake screening process at the beginning of our summer camp," general manager Matt Klentak said on Wednesday.

MLB is still exercising caution with the Phillies, who shared a ballpark with the Marlins over the weekend.

The Phillies will not play until Saturday. And they will continue to undergo daily testing, in other words, twice as much as the ordinary protocol which calls for testing every other day.

"There may not be an end date (for the every-day testing)," Klentak said. "For now, we're taking daily tests and we'll do that until someone tells us we don't have to. We assume we'll be taking them for a while."

Klentak was the first member of the Phillies' front office to speak since the Marlins outbreak over the weekend. Here are some key questions that he was asked and the key topics he hit on:

Pitching coach Bryan Price

He is fine and back at work after not feeling well and quarantining over the weekend. All his tests were negative. 

What did the Phillies know Sunday morning?

Manager Joe Girardi covered this after Sunday's game. The Phillies were alerted that the Marlins had some players who tested positive. The Phillies alerted their players. There were no objections to playing.

In retrospect, that may have been a mistake. Girardi has indicated as much.

Klentak said Major League Baseball knew of the Marlins' situation even before the Phillies did on Sunday morning.

"The decision to play or not to play is an MLB decision and all I can tell you is that there was plenty of communication before that game," he said. "There were others at the league level who knew about the positive test before we did. So, the determination was made at that point that it was safe and thus far it appears that (the infection) didn't travel from one clubhouse to the next which is good for us."

Does the Marlins' outbreak change anything?

You can bet that MLB will be more cautious proceeding with a game if there's another outbreak on a team. There will be some changes in safety protocols. Teams will likely provide higher quality masks for players to wear. Players will certainly be reminded to adhere to protocols.

Baseball-wise, there could be some changes. COVID-related postponements will lead to makeup doubleheaders. There's a good chance those will be seven-inning games. Also, the 30-man roster may be used for the entire 60-game season, not just the first two weeks. Who knows, Phil Gosselin might end up leading the league in homers.

Any other changes?

It's not out of the question that some teams won't be able to make up games. If that happens, playoff spots could be determined by winning percentage. It's not perfect, but neither is this 2020 world and baseball is just a subsection of that world.

"We know that this season is going to be different," Klentak said. "We know that it is going to present a variety of challenges and all of us across the league are going to try to do our best to a) keep the players and staff healthy and safe — that's the first priority — and b) play as many games as possible for our fans. That is really the two-fold goal and if that comes with some competitive imbalances, that is just something we are going to have to live with."

Are the Phillies being hit hard with these competitive imbalances?

Yes. Harder than most. Doubleheaders can wreak havoc on a pitching staff and the Phillies now have one Saturday. Also, they could potentially be hurt in a number of other ways heading into the doubleheader. In the wake of their exposure to the Marlins, the Phillies have been shut down by MLB out of "an abundance of caution." MLB's heart is in the right place because health and safety is the priority, but as long as there's going to be a season, the baseball does matter. Five days without playing — and several without being allowed in your own ballpark to work out — can put a team at a competitive disadvantage. It can also create injury risk.

"I don't dispute that this layoff this week has created a lot of challenges for us, on the field, off the field," Klentak said. "There's an administrative burden on many people and uncertainty for the players. The players aren't playing baseball right now and they are used to playing almost daily. Now we're going to have five days off and we're going to ramp it up with two games on Saturday. That presents its own health risks — maybe not COVID-related, but orthopedic.

"The best thing we can do is try to rally together, both as a team and as a league to make the most of it. It's going to take the efforts of everybody to get through it. I'm not trying to minimize the challenge of it and the competitive elements of it. Those are all very real. I think we have to put health and safety first. We don't really have another choice. That has to be priority No. 1."

Pitching plans

With Friday's game being pushed into Saturday's doubleheader, Klentak was not sure of the pitching order that Girardi would use. The Phils had planned to come back from the unplanned break with Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Jake Arrieta as their first three starters.

Arrieta has yet to make a start. Neither has Zach Eflin, who will follow Arrieta in the rotation.

After the weekend series against the Blue Jays, the Yankees loom.

This won't be easy.

But, after the last few months, we knew that already.

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After 4 games, Phillies' bullpen is the problem you expected it to be

After 4 games, Phillies' bullpen is the problem you expected it to be

Four games into the shortened, 60-game season, the Phillies' bullpen is exactly what you thought it would be.

A problem.

The Phils are 1-3 and all three defeats can be traced back to pitching. Aaron Nola threw a couple of poor curveballs in the season opener against Miami and paid dearly for them. Vince Velasquez and the bullpen got beaten up by the Marlins two days later.

And on Monday night — after not playing a game for eight full days — the Phillies lost, 6-3, to the New York Yankees.

A lack of clutch hitting has definitely hurt the Phillies in their two most recent losses. They were 4 for 19 with runners in scoring position in those two games and left 21 men on base.

But both of those games — the Game 3 loss to the Marlins and the loss to the Yankees — were manageable until the bullpen got in the way.

After Velasquez coughed up a 4-0 lead and was bounced by the Marlins after three innings, the bullpen was tagged for seven runs in six innings in that 11-6 loss nine days ago.

And on Monday night, the Phils were down just 3-1 to the Yankees in the sixth inning when offseason waiver claim Deolis Guerra came in because manager Joe Girardi decided that starter Jake Arrieta, in his first start in almost a year, had "given us everything he had." Arrieta was at 78 pitches. He thought he could have kept going but he understood Girardi's caution.

Guerra's job was to keep the game close. He didn't. He walked the first batter he faced, hit the second batter he faced and allowed a three-run homer to the fourth batter (Gio Urshela) he faced.

The Phillies scored a couple of late runs, but it didn't matter. They couldn't play over Guerra's sloppiness.

With switch-hitter Aaron Hicks and right-handed power bat Giancarlo Stanton due up in the bottom of the sixth, Girardi went to the right-hander Guerra over lefty Adam Morgan. Guerra had inspired a bit of confidence in Girardi with a scoreless ninth inning and two strikeouts in the Phillies' 7-1 win over Miami more than a week earlier.

"Deolis threw the ball really well last weekend and was not able to repeat it," Girardi said after the game. "I feel like he has the ability to help us. He just didn't have it tonight."

Morgan came on and quieted things down after Guerra left and veterans Tommy Hunter and Jose Alvarez both pitched a scoreless inning. Those three veterans, along with Hector Neris, are expected to be mainstays in the bullpen. The other seven spots are iffy. The Phils have been hit hard by injury and other medical issues (David Robertson, Seranthony Dominguez, Ranger Suarez) and were not willing to push the luxury tax to bring in relief help over the winter. So, this is what you've got: A bullpen that after four games is just what you thought it would be — a problem.

Girardi has been around long enough to know what's what. But four games into this most unusual season when his team had to idle for eight days because the Miami Marlins couldn't follow health and safety protocols, he will be patient before reaching down to Lehigh Valley for a remake. At least as patient as he can be in a sprint season that has just 56 games remaining.

"I think it's really hard to judge our bullpen right now just because we haven't played in a week, eight days," Girardi said. "Some of these guys haven't worked in eight or nine days. We try to get them as much work as we can, but it's still not game conditions.

"I think you have to give each guy three to four appearances to be fair to them with consistent work. You ask all relievers, they want consistent work. They don't want to sit for a week and then expect to go out there and have pinpoint control and have a good feel for their breaking ball and whatever other pitches they have. I think they need some consistent work before we really make a judgment.

"If we were to make changes, you're calling up kids who have no experience as well in a sense. These were the guys we thought threw the ball the best during the camps and they've got to get it done."

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Phillies' bullpen struggles again in predictable loss to Yankees

Phillies' bullpen struggles again in predictable loss to Yankees

This was predictable.

Baseball is an everyday sport. Rhythm and repetition are key. Long layoffs are poison.

The Phillies had eight days off by the time they took the field to face Gerrit Cole and the New York Yankees on Monday night. In the end, the Phils suffered a 6-3 loss to fall to 1-3 in the 60-game season.

The Phils' long layoff, of course, was the result of the team coming in contact with the COVID-19-stricken Miami Marlins two weekends ago.

With Monday night's win, the Yankees improved to 8-1. That's the best record in the majors.

The Yankees entered the game with 17 homers, which tied them with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the most in the majors. The Yankees clubbed three more in this game, including two against starter Jake Arrieta.

Arrieta's night

It wasn't great. But it wasn't bad, either.

The right-hander, making his first regular-season start in nearly a year, pitched five walk-free innings and struck out four. He allowed seven hits and three runs. He threw 78 pitches and hit 94 mph on the radar gun.

After the game, manager Joe Girardi said he removed Arrieta because it was the right-hander's first time out and he's still building his workload. Though he believed he could have kept going, Arrieta said he understood Girardi's decision.

Arrieta, whose season was ended by elbow surgery last year, showed some good movement on his two-seam fastball down in the zone, especially in the third and fourth innings when he registered four straight strikeouts.

Arrieta got in trouble early in the game with a couple balls up in the zone and two of them ended up over the wall. Four of the seven hits he allowed were for extra bases.

Again, it wasn't great. But it was definitely something to build on for Arrieta, who needs to deliver behind Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler if this team is going to have any chance of making the postseason. 

Bullpen problems

The bullpen was predicted to be this team's weakness and, so far, the predictions are accurate.

Deolis Guerra, an offseason waiver claim from Milwaukee, picked up Arrieta in the sixth inning with the Phillies trailing just 3-1. Things got out of hand quickly. Guerra walked the first batter he faced then hit the next batter. Two batters later, Gio Urshela launched a three-run homer to left against Guerra to increase the Yankees' lead to 6-1. Those extra runs were important because the Phillies scored twice in the late innings.

The bullpen has come up small in two of the Phillies' three losses. Eight days earlier, in an 11-6 loss to Miami, the Phillies' 'pen gave up seven runs in six innings.

The Phils did get some good work out of the 'pen Monday night from veterans Tommy Hunter and Jose Alvarez. They both pitched a scoreless inning.

Cole's night

The right-hander, who signed a nine-year, $324 million contract with the Yankees in the offseason, won for the third time in as many starts with his new club. He allowed five hits, including a homer to Jay Bruce, and a run over six innings. He walked one and struck out four.

Spencer Howard time?

With Tropical Storm Isaias bearing down on the East Coast, Major League Baseball proactively postponed Tuesday night's game between the Phillies and Yankees. It will be made up as part of a doubleheader Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park. First game is 4:05 p.m. The second game will start no more than 30 minutes after the conclusion of the first game. Both games will be seven-inning affairs and the Yankees will be the home team in the first game.

Doubleheaders always cause scheduling issues with the starting pitching. The Phils will use Nola and Wheeler in Wednesday's doubleheader and will need another starter in the subsequent days. 

So, it might make some sense for the Phillies to bring up top prospect Spencer Howard later in the week, perhaps or Sunday's start against Atlanta.

Before Monday night's game — and before Tuesday night's postponement had been announced — Girardi was asked if there were any plans to bring Howard.

"Our discussions have been more about how he's doing as 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. I believe he threw on Friday (at the Phillies' reserve camp in Lehigh Valley). He made a start there and threw the ball pretty well, which is obviously encouraging. But as far as a date of calling him up, we have not come to a conclusion on that."

Having pitched on Friday, Howard would be on full rest Wednesday.

Up and back

The Phillies began their day with COVID-19 saliva testing then hit the road for New York at about 11:30 a.m. They took five buses (for social distancing reasons) to Yankee Stadium and arrived at about 1:30 p.m. The plan was to check into a hotel after the game, but that plan was scrubbed when Tuesday night's game was postponed. The Phils bused home after the game.

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