Tommy Hunter

Will Phillies be without four key players on opening day?

Will Phillies be without four key players on opening day?

The specter of COVID-19 will hang over the entire 60-game Major League Baseball season that is set to begin in three weeks.

Heck, it’s already hanging over Phillies training camp.

The Phils will officially begin their three-week training period on Friday. They will utilize Citizens Bank Park and the fields across the street at FDR Park.

The Phils have set a 54-man roster for camp — it can grow to 60 — but at least four players will not be there. Second baseman Scott Kingery and pitchers Hector Neris, Ranger Suarez and Tommy Hunter have all been placed on the 10-day injured list, retroactive to Tuesday, and won’t be eligible to return until late next week at the earliest.

No reason or particular injury was given for placing any of the four players on the IL — baseball-related injuries are usually disclosed — and that is essentially confirmation that the four are dealing with something related to COVID-19 — either a positive test, symptoms of the virus or possibly human contact with someone who has already been infected.

“What I can tell you is they're on the injured list, and that's about all I can tell you,” manager Joe Girardi said on Thursday afternoon. “MLB has given protocols on how to handle it.”

For reasons of medical privacy, teams are forbidden to talk specifically about COVID-19 cases.

But Girardi was able to answer baseball-related questions about the players in question. Of particular pertinence: Will these four players be ready for the July 23 or 24 season opener?

“I don't have a timetable on those players,” Girardi said. “I can't really answer that question. As soon as I get an answer, I will give it to you.”

So, it’s at least a possibility that one or more of these players won’t be ready for the opener?

“I think you have to look at all possibilities,” Girardi said.

Further indication that Kingery, Suarez, Neris and Hunter are dealing with something related to COVID-19: Girardi said no player has reported to camp with any new injuries. Relievers Seranthony Dominguez and David Robertson are both on the 60-day injured list with stated elbow injuries. Robertson had Tommy John surgery in August and is iffy for a return this season; Dominguez will have Tommy John surgery in the coming days. His elbow injury, suffered in June 2019, will end up impacting three seasons.

It’s very possible that Kingery, Neris, Suarez and Hunter are, at this moment, completely healthy. However, a player on the COVID-19 IL must test negative twice and pass a medical review before he can return to the group. That could take some time and possibly prevent the players from getting enough practice reps in camp to be deemed ready for opening day.

The possibility of not having Kingery, Neris, Suarez and Hunter at the start of the season is not insignificant.

Kingery is the team’s starting second baseman.

Neris is the team’s closer.

Hunter is an experienced setup man who takes the ball.

Suarez was a late-season find in the bullpen last year and a candidate for the fifth starter’s job back in March.

With an expanded roster, the Phillies could plug second base a number of ways if Kingery is not ready for the opener. Jean Segura could play there and rookie Alec Bohm could get a look at third — if the Phillies wanted to start his service time clock on Day 1. Holding him back a week would garner the Phillies an extra year of control before Bohm would become a free agent. 

The Phils also have a bunch of other players in camp (Neil Walker, Josh Harrison, Phil Gosselin, Logan Forsythe) who can play second.

The bullpen would take a hit without three projected contributors, particularly Neris, but the Phils do have 29 other pitchers in camp so there will be choices. In a 60-game season, every game is vital, every win and loss magnified and multiplied. It’s not necessarily the time to start experimenting, but if Girardi were open to doing so … might it be worth seeing what Vince Velasquez looks like as a closer if Neris misses time?

Time will tell how long Kingery, Neris, Suarez and Hunter will be out.

And don’t think there won’t be more players showing up with mysterious, unexplained trips to the injured list.

COVID-19 will hang over this entire season.

It's already affecting Phillies training camp.

"Do I think there will be players who get COVID-19? Absolutely," Girardi said. "I think with the protocols MLB has with the testing of players, the protocols before you come to the ballpark, and the protocols you do while you're at the ballpark, the contact tracing that we do, I think we will have cases. Hopefully, they will be really containable and we can pull this off.

"For me, it comes down to really how socially responsible we are as an industry, as a state, and as a country. I think we can do it."

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Phillies place four players on injured list for unspecified reasons

Phillies place four players on injured list for unspecified reasons

According to the transactions list on the Phillies' official website, the team has placed four players on the 10-day injured list. 

The players are Scott Kingery, Ranger Suarez, Tommy Hunter and Hector Neris.

The moves come as the team is about to officially open a three-week training period Friday in preparation of a shortened 60-game season.

No official reason was offered for the placements on the injured list and there have been no reports of any of the four players suffering an injury during pre-camp workouts. It is possible that one or all of the players is on the new COVID-19 injury list. Major League Baseball is not required to identify a reason for players going on the injured list if it is indeed for COVID-19.

Being placed on the COVID-19 IL does not necessarily mean that a player has tested positive for the virus. A player can be placed on that list for showing symptoms of having the virus or for coming in contact with someone who has the virus.

A player must test negative twice before he can be reinstated to the roster.

All four of the assignments to the IL have been backdated to June 30, meaning the players will be eligible to return a week from Friday. That would give all four two weeks to get ready for the season opener.

Kingery projects as the Phillies' starting second baseman. Neris is the team’s closer. Hunter and Suarez are relievers, though Suarez had been a candidate for the fifth starter’s job when camp shut down in March.

Hunter, Suarez and Neris had all been working out in recent weeks at the Phillies’ spring training facility in Clearwater, where there was a recent outbreak of COVID-19.

More information could become available when manager Joe Girardi speaks with reporters on Thursday afternoon.

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Which veteran roster candidates have outs in their Phillies contracts?

Which veteran roster candidates have outs in their Phillies contracts?

Opening day is just three weeks from Thursday and as Phillies officials begin to ponder final roster decisions they must consider that several veteran non-roster candidates have the right to become free agents during the final week of camp.

Infielders Logan Forsythe and Neil Walker and relievers Francisco Liriano and Anthony Swarzak all have outs in their contracts on March 19, two days before they must learn whether or not they will make the opening day roster. If these players do not make the roster for the March 26 opener, the Phillies can seek to retain them as minor-league depth by paying them a $100,000 retention bonus.

Forsythe, Walker, Liriano and Swarzak are eligible for these retention bonuses because they ended last season on a major-league contract and have more than six years of service time.

Rosters have increased from 25 to 26 men this season, giving the Phillies room for an extra man on the bench. Forsythe and Walker are both competing for a spot there. Forsythe has come out of the gate quickly with a double, two homers and four walks in his first six Grapefruit League games.

Liriano, a lefty, had a strong season out of Pittsburgh’s bullpen in 2019 and stands a good chance to break with the club. Swarzak, a 10-year veteran, pitched in 59 games for Seattle and Atlanta last season.

Josh Harrison and Phil Gosselin, both infielder/outfielders with a chance to win a spot on the bench, each have outs in their contracts on March 23, three days before the opener. Neither are eligible for a retention bonus if they go to the minors. Harrison has another out on June 1 and Gosselin on July 1.

The Phillies' 40-man roster is full so the team would have to make room for any player from this group that it adds.

Here are the outs for other veteran players in Phillies camp on minor-league deals:

Reliever Blake Parker — Can request release on March 19.

Catcher Christian Bethancourt — Can request release June 1 if in the minors and another team offers a big-league job; July 15 for requested release.

Outfielder Mikie Mahtook — Can request release June 15 if in minors and another team offers a big-league job.

Reliever Bud Norris — Can request release June 30 if in minors and another team offers a big-league job.

Reliever Drew Storen — Can request release June 15 if in minors and another team offers a big-league job.

Outfielder Matt Szczur — Can request release June 15 if in minors and another team offers a big-league job.

Infielder Ronald Torreyes — Can request release June 1 if in minors and another team offers a big-league job; August 15 for requested release.

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